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Berkshire Families Find Lack of Support for Dealing with PTSD

National Institutes of Health

One of the signature lasting effects on veterans of the Iraq War is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reveals that PTSD not only affects those who served, but their family members as well....

Amy, a resident of the Northern Berkshires is married to a veteran who served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, and was redeployed for Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. Amy, who asked to keep her last name anonymous, said that when her husband returned from war the first time in 2006, she noticed his behavior had changed.

"He would get irritable at times, and there were times where he just not really himself," said Amy.

It was later that Amy realized that her husband was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. Since Amy’s husband returned from Afghanistan in 2011, she’s noticed he’s changed more, and it’s starting to affect her family…

"He has more of a temper, I guess you would say," said Amy. "If he does start getting upset with the little things, you have to go somewhere because I can't deal with that and I don't want the kids to deal with all of that."

Amy revealed that her children have reacted to their father being more distant, and not paying them as much attention as before.

But she said her husband would not open up to her about his experiences, but would to other veterans…

"When he would be around other military members, they would talk," said Amy. "But for him to talk to me it was completely different...we just avoided the whole thing."

Rebecca Litchfield, an advocate with the National Veteran’s Legal Services Program headquartered in Washington DC, and a volunteer at the Veterans Service office in North Adams, cited a study  called the Olson’s Circumplex Model that shows that families with close relationships are more likely to be affected by living with a veteran family member suffering from conditions including PTSD.

"60% of the families that were not well structured were affected, and then 70% of the families that were well structured were affected," said Litchfield.

Together with Kathryn McCarthy, Litchfield founded the Berkshire Veterans Program’s Women In Need of Services support group. The W.I.N.S. program is designed to support the spouses and children of veterans, including Amy, who attended. But co-founder Kathryn McCarthy said that since the first meeting in September, attendance has been minimal.

"It's difficult for a woman to come to a support group when their husband won't admit that they have [PTSD] and I think the [women] are afraid to say, 'well, I need help anyway,' " said McCarthy.

Amy said that living in a rural area in the Berkshires, outside of the struggling W.I.N.S. program, it’s difficult for her to find more support for herself and her family.

"We're kind of all on our own," Amy added.

And Rebecca Litchfield is aware of the issue of military families dealing with PTSD in rural Western Massachusetts having difficulty finding support.

“From Springfield to the west of Massachusetts, there's nothing because we're small little towns," said Litchfield.

And Kathy McCarthy, who is seeking to share her own experiences of living with her ex-husband, a veteran of the Vietnam War suffering from PTSD, says that it’s crucial that military spouses and family members educate themselves about the signs of PTSD.

"If you can see the signs, seek counseling for yourself, because you need to protect yourself and you need to protect your children," said McCarthy.

For more information on the W.I.N.S. support group at the Berkshire Veterans Service Program call 413-662-3000 x3040.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.