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I am angry!
You know what? I am very angry. Being that June is PTSD awareness month, one would think that the VA would be doing a better job of taking care of our veterans.
I entered a women-only VA PTSD program earlier this year. Before I completed the program, the VA mandated its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I will never forget, not only the tears that I shed but more importantly, the tears of other women who were in much much worse positions than I was. I thank the Lord every day that I do not have a substance use disorder, however, most of the women in this program do. I cannot help but think of these women daily. I, so very sadly, did not get to know most of them well enough to remain in touch, so I just don’t know what their position is now. Are these ladies back home in toxic and triggering environments? Are they back to alcohol and drugs? Are these ladies even ALIVE?? This hurts my heart and it should hurt yours, too.
VA PTSD Resources
It took the VA nearly a month after its closure to begin mental health counseling and group therapy via telehealth. Not for nothing, it is through a VA telehealth program that is full of glitches with frequent disconnections. Maybe the program would be more user friendly through the VA’s telehealth app, but I wouldn’t know … it is only available for iOS users.
Under the MISSION Act of 2018, signed by President Trump, if services within the VA are unavailable within 20-28 days, then a referral to a community service provider would be available to the veteran. I’ve begged on my knees for a community referral to a private residential PTSD program, but the answer every single time is “no because the VA is closed due to COVID-19 and we will not refer out for the health and safety of our veterans.” This begs the question – which is safer? A COVID-19 infection or PTSD which commonly produces suicidal tendencies? Oh, I am SO angry!! I could go to a private facility without a referral, however, after obtaining private insurance prior-authorization to several facilities, my average out of pocket would be more than $6,000! So, I am stuck with unreliable telehealth twice a week. Additionally, because I am not a COVID-19 front-line worker, I am unable to obtain childcare. This means that I have to juggle my super sweet, but wild toddler in the middle of my individual and group therapy sessions. Are you angry yet??
As I discussed here, military sexual trauma has many effects on health, to include PTSD. I have found that it has been better to take my recovery in my own hands and seek additional help elsewhere, while continuing my traditional therapy. While in-person care has been difficult to obtain, these VA apps have truly been helpful to me in my recovery. (Although I do wish that they would integrate them all into one! I hate having so many apps on my phone. Am I right?)
The biggest tip that I can give to anyone suffering from PTSD is to do your research! Immerse yourself in the information and learn everything there is about PTSD. What I like about PTSD Coach is that:
- it offers educational resources to teach you (and your family and friends) everything there is to PTSD;
- it allows the user to track progress and provides personalized feedback;
- it gives the option to add tools to personalize the management of stress: input contact information for a support network to immediately access when there are moments of severe stress; add amusing and comforting pictures directly from your phone; relaxing and good-mood songs; add inspiring quotes to the home screen; and a distress meter; and
- it can connect you to services and resources;
- The app allows you to rate your distress before and after using each tool, to allow you to build your crisis plan to add which tools work best for you.
Learning to become mindful is my next very important piece of advice. This practice may seem intuitive, but it isn’t – it is an active process that you must be intentional with. Being mindful means to be completely present within the moment, while not reacting to our surroundings or thoughts. The VA’s Mindfulness Coach app will:
- teach you about becoming mindful – basic principles and how to overcome challenges to being mindful;
- create goals to incorporate into your daily life and track progress; and
- provide varying mindfulness practices designed to see what works best for you and to learn about the different types.
Mindful.org is another great resource to learn the practice.
PTSD Family Coach is the perfect app for family, friends, and caregivers of veterans:
- for practical tools, ideas, and support and can be personalized to your situation;
- to learn about the top 3 concerns you have about PTSD;
- allows the loved one to rate their well-being and receive feedback to be in the best shape to care for a veteran with PTSD; and
- to learn about PTSD, things to try to help a loved one with PTSD, to get personal support, and track progress.
According to brainline.org, a common symptom of PTSD is insomnia. Veterans may tend to avoid sleep because of recurring nightmares of their trauma. Moreover, the brain will unconsciously avoid deep, or REM, sleep because PTSD tends to increase the amount of time a person spends in the light sleep phase. The VA’s Insomnia Coach app will:
- provide you a process to learn about insomnia, normal sleep, the development of good sleep habits, and how to rid yourself of negative habits that affect your sleep;
This app is based on practices that can be learned through CBT-i (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia). If you are in CBT-i, there is an additional app that can be used in conjunction with your therapy.
A very important caveat to the use of this app is that if you have the following conditions, please consult with your professional medical provider before the use of this app:
- sleep apnea (SA) or restless leg syndrome (RLS);
- bipolar disorder;
- seizure disorder/epilepsy;
- night terrors;
- excessive daytime fatigue; and
- frailty and fall risk if awakened at night.
Take care of yourself
Self-care is not selfish! Do not feel guilty for taking the time to take care of yourself. Becoming mindful, managing PTSD symptoms, and sleep habits allow you to be a better spouse, friend, parent, and flat-out a better person! These are just a few resources that you can begin to use now to help manage your symptoms. While the apps listed above are VA resources, you do not need to be a veteran to utilize them!
As always, the Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7/365! Reach out to them by phone, text or web chat for help: