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The invisible wound

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- In a scene from the movie "Patton," U.S. Army General George S. Patton, played by George C. Scott, encounters a soldier at a field hospital who is suffering from the emotional stress of the battlefield.

Instead of trying to understand the soldier's problem, Patton physically assaults the young man, calls him a coward and literally runs him out of the hospital.

For many veterans, the scene from "Patton" was the harsh reality they faced when dealing with what has come to be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Sheri Mommerency, 28th Medical Group and Signature Performance wounded warrior case manager and registered nurse. Before PTSD was coined as a medical disorder, many servicemembers were regarded as cowards when they came forward with their feelings of trauma.

PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder which can occur after the person involved witnesses or experiences an event that is traumatic to them.

"Typically, PTSD can occur when a traumatic event occurs that upsets an individual's personal world," said Ms. Mommerency. "A person may not even be a part of the traumatic event; PTSD can occur from witnessing or hearing about something horrifying to the individual."

Airmen suffering from PTSD can exhibit some or all of the following signs:

· social isolation

· substance abuse

· anger, conflict or panic

· marital and family problems

· health and behavioral problems.

The symptoms of PTSD are not always immediately apparent, said Ms. Mommerency. Sometimes they can take months to manifest themselves.

"My husband was very secluded when he returned from deployment," said a spouse of an Airman with PTSD, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons. "He told me that he didn't know how to feel things anymore."

Some Airmen experience hyper-vigilance, where they find themselves reliving the place and time their traumatic event occurred.

They may also have difficulty relating to normal, everyday situations, said Ms. Mommerency. Because of what they've experienced, Airmen sometimes feel detached to the problems and issues people face on a day-to-day basis.

According to Ms. Mommerency, if left undiagnosed and untreated, PTSD can have a significant impact on an Airman's personal and professional life. To avoid this, she encourages Airmen to be completely honest when filling out the DD-Form 2796, Post-Deployment Health Assessment and the DD-Form 2900, Post-Deployment Health Re-Assessment after they return from a deployed location.

"My husband was worried he would lose his job or be singled out for having PTSD," the Airman's spouse said. "All he wanted to do was help further the mission."

However, in order for Airmen to further the mission they need to be fit to fight, both physically and mentally.

The Airman's spouse said if they had sought help sooner it would have spared a great deal of pain and suffering her husband endured.

Ms. Mommerency, a former combat veteran, said she feels passionately about the care wounded Airmen receive when returning from a deployment. She acts as a liaison for Airmen returning from deployment that are wounded, and provides the information and resources necessary for Airmen to get the care they need. That care and treatment can mean the difference between a fast reintegration into society or unnecessary strain on the lives of Airmen.

"For people to assimilate back into society we need to recognize that these are true feelings they have," she said. "The anger that comes with what they've experienced, the social isolation, the family issues, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies can all be treated if Airmen come forward and get the help they need right away."

Community awareness is a large part of helping Airmen with PTSD readjust once they are back home, said Ms. Mommerency. Having that strong network available can make all the difference to an Airman that is already feeling isolated from their friends and family.

If Airmen come forward and are diagnosed early it can start them on the road to recovery much faster than if they wait, said Ms. Mommerency. That timing can possibly prevent Airmen from becoming a danger to themselves or others.

For more information of PTSD visit the National Center for PTSD home at http://www.ptsd.va.gov/.