NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – The arrest of a Texas soldier for scaling the White House fence over the weekend has reignited the national conversation on the mental health of the nation’s returning veterans.
“It’s a hidden injury,” explained retired Army Sergeant Jennifer Aleman.
Aleman spent 10 years serving our country and she says she’s spent the past two, working to recover. “I’ve been struggling with PTSD for a couple of years now. Some of the triggers that are well known are loud noises, being in a loud room…”
But, Aleman says there are more subtle triggers—like isolation—which fuels a disease that experts say thrives on avoidance.
“So can you imagine how hard it is to get someone to come in and talk about their trauma?” asks Alina Suris, MD? “Nooooo, I don’t want to do that!”
Dr. Suris is the Chief of Psychiatry of Mental Health at Dallas’ VA Medical Center. Her research into a more efficient PTSD treatment has been called promising because it does not dwell on the traumatic memory.
“You come in and you have a 30 second exposure to your trauma,” Dr. Suris said. “That 30 second exposure is paired with a medication that we know is safe. We’re trying to interfere with that emotional connection. So you don’t lose the memory of the trauma, at all. But, you lose how you respond to that trauma. So if you think about your trauma, you’re not upset. It’s a fact.”
Dr. Suris is also an associate professor at UT Southwestern and says she and colleagues there have been very encouraged by early results. She’s now applying for additional grants to expand the studies. She says intensive therapy is effective. But, she also knows that it won’t work for every soldier. And there are tens of thousands of others like Aleman who will need all of the help they can get.
Aleman says she turned to the Recovery Resource Council in Fort Worth and with the help of a dedicated therapist, is beginning to reclaim her life. “It helped me figure out why I was so angry,” says Aleman, “why I reacted to certain things in a certain way. It’s not easy. It’s not something that’s going to be fixed right away.”
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