The War Within: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

The War Within: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


The sights and sounds of Vietnam haunt Bill Magie more than 40 years after his service.

"I have spent years being hyper-vigilant and my startle factor was off the charts," Magie said.

His symptoms were indicative of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), yet little was done to help those suffering at that time.

After returning from combat, Magie struggled to adjust to life back home in Des Moines, and developed a serious drinking problem.

"It was really a lost time," Magie said.

Magie found help in weekly AA meetings. The sessions sobered him up and helped ease his anxiety.

Magie's story highlights what health professionals are finding out now more than ever, that PTSD symptoms can be managed with proper treatment.

"It's a treatable condition, that's distinct from what we would have said 5 or 10 years ago," said Heather Cochran, a staff psychologist with Iowa City VA Healthcare Systems.

Psychologists at the Iowa City VA are working with patients to address memories that have been causing distress and provide those memories new meanings.

Recount the memory, retell it in safe structured way, where they have control of the pace, and where they have control over which pieces they're focusing on at a given time so that they can actually  retrain the mind to act differently," Cochran said.

Health officials say the evidenced-based psychotherapy is working, significantly decreasing problematic symptoms, especially when detected early.

Treatment, while effective, however, can only do so much. The traumatic memory causing distress doesn't go away.

"Veterans from previous eras who are going through life changes, and without having work to keep them busy, the PTSD symptoms which may have been pushed below the surface are coming up," Cochran said.

That's what happened on September 11, 2001, a day when Magie's symptoms once again spiraled out of control.

"Something happened to me that day that triggered all those memories, all the war experiences," Magie said.

America was at war and now a decade later, many are bracing for the impact of the heavy burden placed on our service men and women.

"We've been abusing these soldiers.  Many of these soldiers have been deployed repeatedly, and there's a price to pay for that," said Lt. Col. Mary Parmenter with the Iowa National Guard.

Parmenter is overseeing the newly formed PRRO branch, dedicated to helping soldiers and families deal with various issues including suicide awareness and PTSD.

The Iowa National Guard is now screening soldiers multiple times up to a year removed from their return back home. The hope is to catch those suffering and find them treatment.  Getting soldiers to come forward can be very difficult given the stigma that comes along with the disorder.

"We're about at that peak where we really need to focus on these soldier care issues to be able to provide our services to the state and nation," Parmenter said.

Outside the army, Rhonda Jordal has witnessed the effects PTSD can have on a family. She's opening the state's first branch of the Family Alliance for Veterans of America  in Forest City. The organization works to connect veterans with service-related problems and their families to the resources they need.

After ten more years of increasing hyper vigilance, nightmares, and emotional numbing, Magie is finally getting help from today's additional available care.  Magie was given a service dog from the non-profit Paws and Effect. Ryder has helped control Magie's worsening symptoms.

"The future didn't seem to be all that bright in that regard, and since I've got Ryder, I've really noticed some changes," Magie said.

Magie applauds the efforts to address PTSD and traumatic brain injury.  His hope for today's returning veterans is they get the help they need and do not have to suffer like he has.

"Now they're learning and have learned their lesson from us, and the younger people now, who are our combat veterans are going to benefit from our mistreatment," Magie said. 


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