Archive for Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran urges those with post traumatic stress disorder to get help immediately

November 11, 2008

— When Ted Lawyer returned home to Lawrence after a year of duty in Iraq he didn’t realize the toll the war had taken on him.

“You operate at such a high level and the adrenaline is flowing 24 hours a day,” Lawyer, 61, said of his tour of duty with the Kansas Army National Guard. “A lot of stuff doesn’t bother you until you get back here.”

It took blunt talk from Lawyer’s wife, Gwen, to get him to seek help for mental and physical problems.

“I didn’t think there was a problem,” Ted Lawyer said. “My perception was ‘I’m good.’ But everyone around me knew that there was something strange going on.”

For more than a year, Lawyer has worked with a mental health counselor at Colmery-O’Neil Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Topeka. He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He is learning how to avoid situations that cause flashbacks and panic attacks. He’s learning anger management techniques.

Lawyer also sees a physical therapist. He undergoes electrical stimulation to ease the tightness and pain in his back and neck caused by constantly wearing body armor, helmets and other equipment. He has a list of exercises he can do on his own to relieve stress and pain.

Lawyer, however, is worried about other soldiers, those who have not sought help for mental and physical problems. He also doesn’t think the public understands what soldiers experience when they come home from a war zone. The public, and even some in law enforcement, may not recognize signals that indicate a veteran is having problems.

If Lawyer is alone, he no longer drives on Stull Road (Douglas County Route 442). The road triggers memories of Iraq and flashbacks. A Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy once tried to stop him for speeding on that road.

“He had been behind me for quite awhile. He was really upset with me because I didn’t stop,” Lawyer said. “I didn’t even know he was there. I don’t do things like that.”

While the deputy was in his patrol car writing a ticket, Lawyer, upset because he had blanked out, used his cell phone to call a V.A. counselor. The deputy made him get off the phone.

“I lost my lifeline,” Lawyer said.

Lawyer was afraid to drive his car any farther. He got out and started walking.The deputy followed in his patrol car.

“It’s scary. He (deputy) had no clue what he was dealing with,” Lawyer said.

The deputy called Lawyer’s wife, who came and picked him up. A neighbor drove their car home.

Lawyer worries that younger, stronger combat veterans with problems might get involved in an “incident” when confronted. There’s no fear after surviving a war, he said.

“I don’t fear anything,” he said. “I can’t get excited about anything. If I won the lottery I’d say ‘OK, great.’ Everything is just ‘OK.’”

Lawyer said his condition is improving, thanks to counseling. He credits his wife’s support for helping him deal with his problems. Younger soldiers, because of their age, may be less inclined to seek help, he said.

“I worry about the ‘Joes,’ Lawyer said. “I’m an old guy. I’ve got a very, very supportive wife. She understands. Those Joes out there, their wives are young. They don’t understand. Their kids don’t understand.”

Lawyer has a message for those Joes: Ask for help.


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