SMC veterans seek help for PTSD

Andrew Nichols, a student working with Santa Monica College who had spent time in Iraq, led a group discussion on the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, "We try to do it at least twice a semester so that new veterans coming in, or veterans coming back to school, can have a few more tools to get ready to come back to school," said Nichols.

Nichols referred two veterans in attendance to counselor Todd Adamson, who visits the SMC campus on Tuesdays. Adamson, a psychologist who works for the United States Veterans Initiative, or U.S. Vets, the largest non-profit in the country providing services for homeless veterans.

U.S. Vets, or the United States Veterans Initiative, is an organization that assists veterans who have returned home from their tour of duty. They have 10 active locations in the United States, with 3 in California alone. Todd Adamson, a counselor who works for U.S. Vets, was present at the meeting to offer clinical insight into PTSD. He works on campus on Tuesdays, assisting any veterans who are having trouble readjusting to life at home or on campus.

According to Nichols, one of the reasons veterans have trouble adjusting to student life is the environment in which they are taught. Soldiers in the military are taught in a very regimented, disciplined style. When adjusting to student life, one of the biggest difficulties is overcoming the lack of discipline many of the students display. Veterans may be unused to others goofing off in the classroom or disrespecting the teacher. At times, this new, chaotic environment may become overwhelming to some.

According to counselor Adamson, students have difficulty adjusting to life when returning from their tour of duty to the difference in the environments. Soldiers in the military are trained to be hyper aware at all times so they are able to keep their head in combat. This kind of training helps save lives, however, this hyper-awareness does not necessarily translate to a classroom environment.

Students might sit with their back to the wall so they can watch other students enter the room. In addition, students often feel afraid to speak up out of fear of people judging them for their military service. In one case Adamson cited, a student felt out of place when her teacher accused those enrolling to fight in the military of engaging in futility.

The two veterans in attendance both said they had experience with PTSD. "This is the first time I've actually really addressed it. I never really thought of myself as having PTSD. Then I discovered not everyone has PTSD on a full-blown "Oh crap" level. Some people have it on a more subtle level that effects their subconscious more," said Sergey Volkov. Volkov served eight years in the military, doing 15 months in Iraq as a tanker.

Audrey Simmons said, "Sometimes I see information, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I see it clearly, sometimes I don't. I have a lot of memory issues, and I'm not sure if it's just the PTSD or the TBI, because I have a combination of both." Simmons was in the Navy for three and a half years.

TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury, is a form of acquired brain injury, which occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. Simmons also reported having been raped while on duty, an uncommon occurrence in an armed force in which one in three women are the victims of sexual assault according to "I used to have nightmares of being attacked on the ship," said Simmons.

PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder that occurs after an individual witness or experiences a traumatic event that involves the threat of injury or death by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Symptoms of PTSD include a repeated "reliving" of the event, avoidance: which includes emotional "numbing" and feelings of detachment, and states of hyper-arousal, which include difficulties concentrating and outbursts of anger.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs provides treatment for PTSD through local care centers. They also have nearly 200 specialized PTSD treatment programs. "They've done more now than they ever have in the history of the U.S. government. Unfortunately demand is so high and resources are so low, that they just don't have the resources to meet all the demand. That's why organizations like U.S. Vets is so important," said Nichols.

Nichols closed the meeting by referring the veterans in attendance to Adamson for further counseling.