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War Vets’ Post-Traumatic Stress Linked to Chronic Illness

Diagnoses and treatment for the condition still an issue for sufferers.

The 5th Royal Australian Regiment, marching in Perth's ANZAC Day parade, 2016. Photo credit: Kimberley McGivern

The 5th Royal Australian Regiment, marching in Perth's ANZAC Day parade, 2016. Photo credit: Kimberley McGivern

The 5th Royal Australian Regiment, marching in Perth's ANZAC Day parade, 2016. Photo credit: Kimberley McGivern

Kimberley McGivern, Reporter

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been linked to 11 chronic illnesses and diseases, according to a world first study into its long-term effects.

The study, funded by the Queensland branch of the Returned Serviceman’s League, found PTSD caused an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack), autoimmune diseases, renal diseases, insomnia and sleep apnoea.

Miriam Dwyer, CEO of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF), which compiled the study, told ABC news that PTSD should be regarded as a “full systemic disorder” and not just a mental health problem.

“We are a full complement of all of our senses, so when you’re genuinely feeling unwell, it has an impact on the rest of your life and on the families of vets,” said Dwyer.

According to the GMRF, one in three veterans will develop PTSD.

The study looked at 300 Vietnam War veterans over 25 clinical tests and compared the psychological and physical health of those with and without PTSD.

Soldiers from recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not been getting the help they need.

Soldiers in need of treatment for PTSD are unaware of the support services or benefits that are available to all Australian military personnel.

Afghanistan War veteran Michael Humphreys told ECU Daily:

“Everyone in the military, ex or serving, is entitled to a free White Card that will pay for any treatment to do with PTSD, anxiety, depression, basically any mental health disorder. But they don’t tell you about this stuff.”

“To get anything else covered and paid for, you need to put a claim in with the Department of Veteran Affairs. Once they agree that they are liable, then that is also covered on the White Card.

“I am currently going through the claim process now for PTSD, substance abuse and alcohol abuse.

“I only just found out I could claim in February. I’ve been out since November 2011.

“That is why we have so many vets who are in prison, addicts or killing themselves; they don’t know what help is out there.”

The Department of Veteran Affairs is responsible for processing the applications for military health benefits and treatments.

“There isn’t enough education out there about what you can claim for or even how to do it!” said Humphreys.

“It is a process, and if you don’t get it all right they will knock you back.

“They can make it very difficult for you. After all, they are an insurance company. They don’t want to pay out if they don’t have to.”

The process for soldiers who want to leave the army can also cause problems for those who need treatment for mental illness.

The army generally does not discharge soldiers unless they have a clean bill of physical and mental health.

“At the end of our trip we get psych tested. We all lied and told them what they wanted to hear so we could go home,” said Humphreys.

“If we told them the truth, they would have held us back.”

Not all PTSD suffers have served in the military.

Courtney Wilder, of Port Kennedy, south of Perth, was diagnosed with PTSD four years ago.

Wilder told ECU Daily, “I have a lot of stomach problems and find it hard to process food. I have had loads of tests but the doctors never seem to be able to pin down what causes it.

“The insomnia does come at times, which I really struggle with.

“Sometimes I will wake up in the night screaming or will see things that are not there. This will keep happening throughout the night, so it’s a pretty broken sleep.”

Wilder saw a psychologist and now successfully manages her symptoms.

However, there is still a lot about PTSD that is unknown and not all doctors have the training to recognise the systems.

Shanelle Alliss, in Perth’s north, told ECU Daily diagnosis and treatment for her PTSD has been a long and hard process:

“GPs just wanted to just shove antidepressants down my throat, despite me saying I don’t think I am depressed, but I do have severe anxiety and panic attacks.

“The more I was saying it wasn’t working, the higher the dose I was given, until I became a zombie.

“Only a few years ago, after I was finally listened to by a doctor, I went to see a counsellor who has lots of experience with PTSD.”

According to the latest Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, PTSD affects 7.7 per cent of Australians.

If you, or anyone you know is suffering from PTSD you can find help and support by contacting the following services:

Veterans and Veterans Families Counseling Service: 1800 011 046  www.vvcs.gov.au

Mental Health Emergency Response Line: 1300 555 788 (Rural: 1800 676 822)

Crisis Care: 1800 199 008

Lifeline: 13 11 14

For a full list of WA services click here http://www.actbelongcommit.org.au/about-us/where-to-get-help.html#crisis-lines



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Quality journalism by ECU students
War Vets’ Post-Traumatic Stress Linked to Chronic Illness