'There are ways to get better, I promise you”: No-cost treatment for vets with PTSD

SEATTLE -- As part of Q13 News’ all local focus on veterans this week, we’re looking at what post-traumatic stress looks like for local soldiers, and what programs are out there to help those who sacrificed their own freedoms to safeguard our own.

We spoke with the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs, which hopes to help more service-members win the battle for their mental health.

“When my uniform is on I’m an Airborne Ranger leader of paratroopers,” said Jon Nordin. “That’s the image I have of myself and my job was.”

Nordin spent a long time overseas – he was an Army Ranger, spent 9 years in the service including two tours in Afghanistan. But when he came home he knew something about himself had changed.

“It is very unique to military to have this mentality that I can accomplish anything, but I’m having issues with my own feelings,” he said.

Nordin says after he left the Army he began drinking more, arguing with his girlfriend over small issues, even shaking himself awake – and he finally was diagnosed with PTSD.

“The disorder has a stigma about it, that something is wrong with you, and it leads to a problem with community at large understanding how PTS effects veterans and how veterans feel about themselves,” he said.

But just getting to a diagnosis can still be a challenge for many vets.

“Where’s the ritual in our culture to welcome folks back? Where is the opportunity to help our veteran’s share our voice?” said Peter Schmidt, PTSD director at the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. “I’d say that’s what’s changed from 40 years ago.”

Schmidt says the VA offers multiple programs for soldiers finding it hard to re-integrate back into civilian life.

Vietnam vets never had the opportunity to share their story and we still got people living in the foothill of the Cascades or Olympics because they were never welcomed home,” he said.

That’s why since the mid 1980’s, the VA in our state has offered vets and their families treatment options through the ‘War Trauma Program’ at no cost. Schmidt says recipients aren’t required to have been deployed into combat zones, only served during an era of war. Plus in King County, Schmidt says local legislation extends the no cost option to those who were dishonorably discharged.

“Some of them are not even aware that they have this darkness that’s going on in their lives,” said Schmidt.

Preventing other vets from suicide is one of the reasons why Nordin speaks out about his diagnosis. He says he lost a friend to suicide he believes stemmed from untreated PTSD.

Nordin says he’s found comfort and healing through therapy and a dog – and he wants to remind others that treatment works.

“If you’re a veteran and you’re feeling like life isn’t worth living anymore because you don’t feel the same way you did previously, it can get better,” he said, “There are ways to get better, I promise you.”

Find more information about the programs offered by WDVA by clicking here.