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Living with PTSD: As one local family discovered, there is help and hope

By CATHY LENNY

A family that may have reached its lowest point and believed they were out of options has now found a host of resources available to them.

The couple, Charles and Katya, currently are living in an apartment in Manchester with their two young children. But after a disagreement with the maintenance man over repairs that were supposed to be made, they are being forced out of their apartment. 

A hole in the ceiling of Katya and Charles’ apartment. [Cathy Lenny photo]

While the repairs needed were long past due and the renters had good cause to be upset, Charles may have overreacted during an exchange with the maintenance man, leading to a phone call to police. 

Charles has been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] after serving in the Marine Corps for six years. During that time, he endured a riot with 15,000 revolutionaries while serving as an embassy guard in Senegal. He also came close to death in Iraq when an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] exploded just 12 feet away from him. In yet another incident, a suicide bomber killed several members of his unit, including his captain.

PTSD can develop after exposure to traumatic events like violent assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat and other forms of violence. It can lead to negative changes in mood and thinking that can include mood swings, difficulty focusing or concentrating, depression, isolation from friends and family, and apathy.

When Charles came home to find his wife in tears after her encounter with the maintenance man, he confronted the man, shouting at him and getting in his face. The man then called the police.

Luckily for Charles, one of the police officers who responded has experience with veterans. Officer Jason Gibbs is a veteran himself. 

So as not to escalate the situation, Gibbs started the conversation by asking how Charles was doing, from one vet to another. Having had encounters with those suffering from PTSD before, he knew that Charles might be prone to the all-too common hair-trigger response. 

Instead, he encountered a couple that was simply down on their luck.

“Once I identified him as a veteran, I asked if they needed additional assistance,” Gibbs said. “If a veteran does something criminal, they’re still liable, but it doesn’t mean they don’t need assistance.”

Gibbs just happens to be a member of the Veterans Planning Team in Manchester. Their goal is to identify veterans who need assistance whether it’s financial or medical and to find resources to help them.

Katya and Charles [Cathy Lenny photo]

A network of resources

The Veterans Planning Team was started earlier this year with local organizations like the local American Legion Hall and VFW Post and grew from there, Gibbs said.

The team is trying to cover every aspect in which a veteran may need assistance. The entire police department is on board with the program and additional training will be provided for its officers.

“We try to get everybody together on the same page, to identify people who need help and channel that toward one person,” Gibbs said.

After Gibbs learned the couple was being evicted from their apartment on Oct. 31, he along with Mayor Mike Clement and Alderman Megan Huether [Ward 2], met with representatives from the apartment complex. Although the apartment owners refused to reverse their decision, they did extend the deadline for eviction until the end of the year.

“They have two very young children,” Clement said of the family. “He’s working in a journeyman carpentry program and has a partial [50%] disability. Between therapy for PTSD and the journeyman’s program, they seemed to be clawing their way back from prior difficulties.”

Though at first it seemed that finding another place to live would be challenging, efforts of organizations like H.E.R.O.E.S.  [Homefront Enabling Relationships, Opportunities and Empowerment through Support] Care and the St. Patrick Center may make finding another apartment easier despite the couple’s past difficulties.  

H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, based in Fenton, is a collaborative effort of trained caregivers and professional mental health care providers working together to help military members and their families. 

President Jon Jerome said H.E.R.O.E.S Care is working with some of its partner charities like the Homeless Veterans Integration Program at St. Patrick Center to find a new place for the family to live in Manchester. 

H.E.R.O.E.S. Care has been successful for 15 years in helping veterans with everything from finding housing and vehicles to supplying food at one of its six food pantries.

“We feed 3, 200-3,500 military families a year,” Jerome said.

While they do get some federal money for homeless veterans for housing, most of the funding comes through donations from businesses. Jerome maintains that 96 cents of every dollar goes back to helping people. 

“We provide total care and year-round support,” he said. “It’s not just housing, we help with other things.”

While one business might provide cars through its fleet vehicles, another does auto repair work or home repairs like roofing and siding, he said.

“We take each situation and look at it,” Jerome said. “It’s not just him [Charles] being homeless; there are other things associated with that. It’s a matter of finding a network.”

H.E.R.O.E.S. Care also helps connect with other organizations like Suits for Soldiers, which provides veterans with the necessary tools to look for employment, including suits, winter coats and resume advice to ensure their success.

Through their partner group Giveanhour.org, a network of volunteer mental health professionals work with veterans to try to isolate their problems. Since 2005, Giveanhour.org has focused on providing free mental health care to active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members, veterans and their families.

A very real problem 

People who experience PTSD may have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of triggering events. They also may experience sleep problems, feel detached, or may be easily startled. In severe forms, PTSD can significantly impair a person’s ability to function at work, at home and socially.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the best treatment for PTSD and medications can help some individuals as well.

Charles is currently in counseling but still feels the effects of PTSD.  

“I don’t want to be around anybody, my nerves are so raw,” he said. “The kids just don’t understand.”

Katya suffers, too. She has learned not to touch him in his sleep, as he may come up swinging. She said he has a short fuse and that it’s impacted their social life.

Even though they both come from military families, it’s been especially difficult with some family members, Katya said.

But, things are starting to look up. The couple is optimistic that they will be in a new apartment by the end of the year in Manchester so their 5-year-old can stay in the same school district. And they are getting a much needed second vehicle from Journey Church in Manchester. 

Though their experience has been daunting, they have come to realize the importance of community organizations that reach out to people in need, in particular the Veterans Crisis Line through the VA. It has specially trained responders available 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Unfortunately, the worst outcome of PTSD also is increasing among veterans. The VA reports there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 through 2016. In 2017, there was an average of 16.8 suicide deaths by veterans per day. Evidence of how challenging life with PTSD truly is and how significant the need for help. 

A chance to get help

On Feb. 27, 2020, Manchester United Methodist Church, 129 Woods Mill Road, will be the site of a Veterans Resource Event. From 9 a.m.-noon, veterans will be able to contact organizations that provide housing, food assistance, VA benefits, legal assistance, mental health, substance abuse and more. For information on this event, contact Stephanie Kirk at (636) 275-5661.

Some resources available to assist veterans are:

• Housing Helpline: (314) 802-5444

• United Way: (800) 427-4626

• St. Patrick Center: (314) 802-0700

• St. Louis County Dept. of Human Services: (314) 615-4516

• VA Regional Office: (314) 253-4449

• H.E.R.O.E.S. Care: (636) 600-0096

• VA Hope Recovery Center: (314) 652-4100

• Salvation Army: (314) 423-7770

• Veterans Business Resource Center: (314) 531-8387

• Veterans Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255

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