Veteran gives advice on PTSD
Students learned about mental issues affecting veterans who have returned from combat during a seminar at Palomar on April 13.
Guest speaker Dr. Bart Billings, a retired Army Colonel, gave a presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans and how their peers can help them through the process of recovery. Though the number of individuals afflicted with PTSD is considered confidential, Palomar has a substantial veteran populace. In an interview during the Fall semester, Palomar President Robert Deegan said that Palomar College was the “largest GI Bill recipient in the state.”
“I think it’s important for Palomar to be aware of the struggles of veterans so that they can provide services which enable them to move on with their life and graduate,” Billings said. “These services can also help veterans normalize themselves to the civilian world once they have returned from combat.”
According to Billings, it’s common to experience symptoms of PTSD following a combat deployment, but that given enough time, an individual can make a full recovery. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs, the symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, mental avoidance of a memory, feeling numb, and hyper-arousal or being “keyed-up.”
While the seminar focused primarily on veterans suffering from PTSD, the mental affliction is not exclusive to servicemen. According to Billings, PTSD can manifest its symptoms when a person is unable to process an experience they went through. These experiences include violent military encounters, natural disasters, childhood abuse, sexual assault, serious accidents such as car crashes, and more.
Billings’ work as both a military and civilian psychologist has helped him acquire first-hand knowledge on the adverse reactions military personnel can acquire in service. These reactions can interfere with their performance on the battlefield and at home when they return to their families.
“When you leave you have to make sure that you’re okay, your family is okay and everything else is okay, so you can focus on your mission 100 percent,” Billings quoted from the movie Act of Valor.
He suggested that the college implement integrated treatments such as mental training and the Human Assistance Rapid Response Team (HARRT) program. For an hour a day, for 30 days Billings said veterans should be given mental training by trained staff. The program he said would help to educate and make returning soldiers see that these reactions are a normal cause from being in an abnormal battlefield environment.
Billings said that staff could discuss with veterans how they are meeting their life needs as well as psychological needs such as a sense of belonging, power, freedom, having fun, learning and enjoying yourself.
“Everyone has a psychological need,” Billings said, “It’s just a matter of helping them figure out a way to meet those needs.”
Billings continued on to explain a second option the college can take is by doing a modified version of the HARRT program in which they examine a veteran’s readiness for college by taking an evaluation of their physical and psychological state.
“If injured, what are you capable of still doing?” Billings asked. “‘Are you ready to go back to school? Is your family ready for you to complete a college program and what can you do to accomplish this’ are some of the questions that should be asked and assessed.”
Billings also suggested the creation of a class that would allow veterans of combat to gather and discuss the various ways they go about “normalizing” themselves. In the absence of a class, Billings believes there are still some ways veterans can go about seeking help: individual counseling, biofeedback, guided imagery, peer counseling and even hypnosis.
“In implementing these integrated treatments, there will no longer be a need for soldiers to feel that they have to hide what they are going through because they learn that there are others in the same situation dealing with similar experiences and stresses,” Billings said.
This May, Billings will be hosting and directing the 20th Annual International Military Civilian Combat Stress Conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Los Angeles, California. The 5-day conference will break up into two parts, Pre-Conference May 2-3 and Conference May 4-6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. According to Billings, the event will bring together civilian and military medical and mental health professionals from throughout the world to share their clinical knowledge and integrative treatment approaches.
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