New federal research into PTSD to impact Iowa veterans - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New federal research into PTSD to impact Iowa veterans

Vietnam War veteran Jim Wagner, Dubuque, talks about his experience getting treatment for PTSD Vietnam War veteran Jim Wagner, Dubuque, talks about his experience getting treatment for PTSD

The federal government is launching new research into post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs plan to invest $107 million to examine PTSD and brain trauma in U.S. service members and veterans, the departments announced this week.

Operation Iraqi Freedom left Dubuque veteran Steve Klein with PTSD and several physical injuries. He calls the Veterans Freedom Center in Dubuque a saving grace.

"It's a safe place to go," he said at the center. "You know, I don't have to be on my toes the whole time, I can just come down and be me and be around other veterans."

The Veterans Freedom Center is a non-profit community center for vets of all ages. Vietnam War veteran Jim Wagner co-founded the center but said he was in no place to help anybody 10 years ago.

"When I was younger, it was boiling, and then as I got older, it started boiling over and it was coming out," Wagner said, of his intense feelings. "That's when it really got bad and I had to go then."

Wagner went to the VA and got a diagnosis of PTSD. That was 30 years after returning from combat.

"Early on, I thought it was just me," Wagner said. "I thought, 'Oh, I went through Vietnam and I'm having a little trouble adjusting,' you know, depression and all that, but then, as I got older, it kept getting worse and worse."

He describes having had a short fuse and experiencing peaking emotions.

"You're so used to Vietnam, where everything has to be perfect, that it's hard to drop that when you get back here -- that if things are not perfect, you're not going to die," Wagner said.

PTSD doesn't only affect the veteran who has it.

"My wife and kids had to go through that, too," Wagner said. "At the time I went up for treatment, I was so far down that I thought there's not coming back. Felt worthless, couldn't do anything right."

He encourages any vet of any age who may be dealing with PTSD to seek treatment, like Steve Klein did.

"We've had several down here went through PTSD treatment and came back," Wagner said at the center. "And it's quite a difference. They're completely turned around. A little smile on their face instead of a frown all the time."

Through counseling and medication from the VA and the support of his fellow veterans, Wagner is now helping other vets.

"It really straightened me out," Wagner said, of his PTSD treatment. "I come back and have all this energy now to help other veterans."

He calls it his mission to pay it forward.

Nationally, the VA faces close to 500,000 backlogged veteran disability claims. Veteran advocates urge veterans in need of help to not let this deter them.

Charlie Brimeyer is executive director of the Dubuque County Veterans Affairs Commission. He said any vet who may have PTSD should go to the VA Hospital in Iowa City and get diagnosed.

Even while a veteran's disability claim is pending, Brimeyer said, a VA diagnosis can get a veteran treatment at no cost to him or her.

Health officials say PTSD can happen to anybody who has faced extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death, so in addition to service members, it could also happen to a victim of a crime.

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