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PTSD AWARENESS: Veterans' struggles are 'every day and usually go unseen'

joshua starks afghanistan ptsd
Posted at 4:48 AM, Jun 24, 2024

TULSA, Okla. — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a cruel reality for many people, especially veterans across our country after serving overseas, making the return to civilian life a painful challenge.

This PTSD Awareness Month, the commander of VFW Post 577 in Tulsa, Joshua Starks, told 2 News veterans’ struggles with PTSD are "every day and usually go unseen."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said seven out of every 100 veterans will suffer PTSD in their lifetime. For context, there are more than 18 million veterans in the United States, according to Pew Research Center.

Starks joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, going on to serve in Afghanistan.

joshua starks afghanistan ptsd veterans
Joshua Starks (2nd from left) in Afghanistan.

When describing PTSD, he said the thing that makes adjusting to civilian life so hard is the survival skills that kept soldiers alive while overseas.

“A lot of times, you know, you’ll be in the office space, and you’ll be there, and something— some loud bang will happen and everybody else is looking to see what it is, and the veteran is white-knuckled on their desk because their autonomic response is stimulated,” said Starks.

“And so, they’re trying to recover from that moment, and then they quietly just bury it down, they don’t talk about it, and they move on,” he continued. “I hear these stories day after day with our veterans in the community.”

Starks had a challenging time reintegrating when he got back, he told us.

One time, he was walking his son home from kindergarten when they walked past a house.

“All of a sudden, one of the roofers had popped off with an air gun, and it was in rapid succession, and it sounded very similar to an AK-47 at distance," he recalled. "And in that moment, without thinking, I had grabbed my son and shoved him into the ground and put my body over him.”

He went on to say “therapy helps, and forgiving yourself for those moments when things like that happen helps a lot.”

However, he has not suffered through it alone.

He recalled going to a retreat with some Vietnam War veterans when one of them approached him.

“When I got back, I’ve had some really severe nightmares about my instances overseas,” Starks recounted telling him. “Where does that stop at? Like, you’ve been doing this for 50 years, like, where does the break come?”

“There was a World War II vet that told me … that there comes a point when you stop trying to save the people that you lost,” he recalled the veteran saying, “and those dreams become a welcome reminder of an old friend, and you spend time together in that dream.”

Starks then asked the veteran, “When does that happen?”

“I don’t know,” the veteran replied. “It hasn’t happened for me yet, but it gives you hope to hold onto.”

joshua starks veterans ptsd
Joshua Starks holding his son.

PTSD has always been present—whether it was called “having a soldier’s heart” during the U.S. Civil War or “shellshock” during World War I. It was after the Vietnam War that “post-traumatic stress disorder” became the standard term.

"But I don’t know that they really addressed the way that it needed to be addressed for those Vietnam veterans," he noted.

But the view of it has changed over the years, according to Starks.

"Luckily now, after years of mistakes," he said, "I feel like that with all of the support that both the VA gives us and our partners in the community—our veteran agencies in the community give us—that there are ample opportunities for us to come in and get some help.

"It may not fix everything," he acknowledged, "but at least get us on the path to recovery.”

However, Starks told us he’s found brotherhood at the VFW, saying he’s seen peer-to-peer counseling having a great impact on veterans he’s met there.

There are lots of resources out there, from the VA to the 988 Mental Health Helpline.

Not every type of therapy will work for every person. There are many options available, such as group therapy, outdoor therapy, equine therapy, or individualized therapy.

It’s important to point out that veterans aren’t the only ones who can suffer from PTSD. The VA said six out of every 100 adults will have PTSD in their lifetime.


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