VA hospitals deal with flood of PTSD

TOMAH, Wis. — Soldiers returning from war can come home with more than just physical wounds. Post traumatic stress disorder—or PTSD– leaves hundreds of thousands of soldiers suffering from chronic anxiety over events that happened overseas.

But new numbers indicate more soldiers are reaching out for help. USA TODAY is reporting 40,000 combat veterans suffering from PTSD surged into VA hospitals this year.
The VA recently hired more than 3,500 mental health professionals across the nation to meet soldiers’ increasing needs. The Tomah VA Medical Center is no exception.

“So far we’re more than keeping up, but it’s a constant challenge,” said the Center’s Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health Dr. Dave Skripka.

For the past several years, Dr. Skripka has seen the number of veterans seeking mental health treatment from their center go up by 300 people every year. They’ve increased their psychiatric staff by nearly 25 percent to meet the increasing demand.

But why are we seeing an increase in veterans diagnosed with PTSD? It’s hard to pin it on just one cause.

“We have no way of knowing how much of this is a real increase in the incidents of this specific disorder and how much of this is increased diagnosis, paying attention to the problem, and aggressively seeking out veterans who need help,” said Dr. Skripka.


As Executive Director of the La Crosse Area Veterans Mentor Program and a Vietnam vet himself, Thom Downer says veterans today have different problems than when he came home from war.

“The economy was such that you could come back home, get back into the economy, get back, start your life up again…. The economy is very hard for veterans coming back right now…. And that just adds to the pressure that they have brought back with them from being in a combat zone,” said Downer.

And yet another factor could be changing attitudes toward soldiers who reach out for help– a change Dr. Skripka says may be happening slowly, but is definitely happening.

“It’s hard for people to come in if they’re having symptoms. There’s very much still a culture out there that says, if you’re struggling, you’re weak. You’re crazy. The stigma, I believe, is getting better over time but it’s slow,” said Dr. Skripka.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, the disorder has four types of symptoms:

One is having flashbacks of the traumatic event.
Two is avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
Three is feelings of numbness as soldiers try to avoid the memories.
And four is feeling jittery, like you’re constantly on the lookout for danger.

If you or a veteran you know is in crisis, or is having trouble accessing mental health care, you can call the VA’s Veterans Crisis Hotline. That number is 1-800-273-TALK.