Story by ELLEN BECKER, Managing Editor—
When one thinks about post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, they may imagine a soldier who is transitioning from combat life to home life, and how difficult the change must be. However, something most people don’t think about is how the disorder affects the families of those soldiers.
Military veterans returning home face many obstacles that can trigger flashbacks to their time in combat. For example, some have a hard time being in big crowds of people, and certain smells or loud noises can cause them to remember traumatic events.
It can be hard for family members to know what to do and how to help their loved one in these kinds of situations.
With that in mind, UCM is now offering an interactive resiliency training program called “Family of Heroes.” It’s a confidential, one-hour, avatar-based online simulation program that teaches family members how to identify PTSD and suicidal intent, and how to connect the veteran with resources.
Amy Kiger, director of Violence and Substance Abuse Prevention at UCM, was instrumental in helping the university to implement the program. According to a press release, she said that through role-play with avatars, program participants will enter a virtual environment and assume roles of different family members.
They will learn by engaging in realistic practice conversations with avatars acting and responding like real veterans who are experiencing post-deployment stress. They will also discover how to start a conversation in a neutral way that allows them to express their concern about a family member’s behavior without the situation escalating into anger.
The conversations used in the program are based on real stories gathered in interviews with veterans and their families.
The press release said the goal of the program is to provide spouses, children and others the critical skills they need to support their veterans while managing the challenges encountered during the transition period after combat. It is instrumental in that it helps families know what triggers episodes.
The university obtained 750 user licenses for the program. Participants who go to the site www.familyofheroes.com/missouri are given an access code and can stop and start the one-hour program and come back to use it as much as they want.
The program is being offered by the Military and Veterans Success Center at UCM with funding from the Missouri Suicide Prevention Project under a grant provided from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The university is the only Missouri entity offering this type of program. It’s free and available to all Missouri residents, not just UCM students and faculty. Veterans can even use the program to help identify whether or not they have post-deployment stress and to find out how to seek help.
“We really focus on helping veterans with PTSD here, by providing them with a support system,” said Delilah Nichols, coordinator for UCM’s Military and Veteran Services. “This program is particularly important because now we can provide help for the families, too.”
According to VA statistics, it is estimated that a third of returning veterans experience PTSD, traumatic brain injury or major depression, but only half seek medical attention.
In 2010, more than 408,000 veterans were diagnosed with PTSD and received a treatment at a VA medical center and clinics. According to www.VetsPrevail.org, on average, 18 veterans take their own lives every day. “Freedom isn’t free; it certainly isn’t,” Nichols said. “It changes people. Even though they’re trained, the act of war is devastating.”
Nichols said she hopes the program and other services the Military and Veterans Success Center offers will open the door for people to understand that it’s OK to admit that they’re having problems and to seek help. “I think it’s important to provide these services as a reflection of our gratitude, and to let veterans know we care.”
For more information on “Family of Heroes,” contact Nichols at Nichols@ucmo.edu or at 660-543-8776, or visit www.familyofheroes.com/missouri.
“It’s vitally important for families of veterans to take advantage of free resources to help understand, cope and help their loved ones heal,” Nichols said.