Remnants of Ukraine battle reverberate for Southern Nevada veterans with PTSD

Remnants of Ukraine battle reverberate for Southern Nevada veterans with PTSD

For some Southern Nevada combat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is much closer than it appears on television.

Reports from across the nation are showing that those haunted by their own battle experiences are increasingly impacted by the images of destruction and death as war correspondents report from the front lines. Although President Joe Biden has vowed to keep American troops out of battle, psychologically speaking the fighting is coming home.

At the Veterans Health Administration’s Northeast Primary Care Clinic, Larry Lyon is a clinical psychologist of more than four decades who has treated PTSD clients for the past eight years. Veterans suffering from PTSD often are afflicted with other medical maladies associated with their service. But, anecdotally speaking, he believes the images of the current war are having an effect on patients at the clinic.

His casual query of colleagues recently produced a troubling story from a Gulf War veteran, who was concerned that the fighting might reach Southern Nevada.

“He is very frightened of the Ukraine crisis, thinking that the Russian military is going to lob missiles into Nellis Air Force Base,” Lyon says.

ike just about everywhere else in American society, the war is a topic of conversation with veterans still coming to terms with their own combat traumas.

“Older veterans talk about possible (battle) strategies,” Lyon says. “They reflect back on their own experiences in Vietnam. The younger ones tend to have more of an attachment to the idea of going and doing something about it, like joining the fight. Within the group, anything like this can become political.”

Veterans make up more than 10 percent of Nevada’s population. It’s one of the highest per capita rates in the nation, and there are a wide range of services available. The state’s VA health centers offer a PTSD Program with several locations and varying levels of treatment.

At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Center for PTSD has issued a message to help suffering vets cope with the haunting impact of current events. Feelings of frustration, sadness, helplessness, anger and betrayal are possible.

“Feeling distress is a normal reaction to negative events, especially ones that remind you of your own past experiences,” the VA message states. “Even though Ukraine is far from the U.S. and you may not have served in that region, events there can still be a powerful reminder of your own military experiences and bring up strong emotions. It can be helpful to let yourself experience those feelings rather than try to avoid them.”

The recent surge in stress and spike in PTSD caused VA Secretary Denis McDonough earlier this month to remind veterans and those who care for them to seek help.

“I know that many of you, like me, have been deeply affected by the war in Ukraine,” McDonough said. “My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people as they defend themselves from this unprovoked attack, and to everyone impacted by this terrible war.”

In the middle of a war, of course, the Ukrainian people don’t have much time to consider the lasting wounds from the Russian invasion. At least with this distant war it is possible for American combat veterans suffering from PTSD to limit exposure to the sounds of battle and violent images.

As one licensed clinical social worker puts it, “Limiting the time of your exposure is going to be really key for all this. Also, make sure you’re making connections with friends or family and really seeking support.”

The VA offers an around the clock Veterans Crisis Line that provides help and crisis support even for veterans not enrolled in its health care network. (The phone number is 800-273-8255.)

It all adds up to a level of assistance not available to previous generations of veterans. Even with all that, some veterans are still reluctant to seek treatment.

“I think there is more awareness,” Lyon says, but admits there’s still a taint attached to seeking treatment and a long way to general societal acceptance and empathy. “It still exists, I think to a lesser degree than it was previously. In a broader scale, mental health treatment has a stigma in itself in the general population, and especially among veterans.”

That’s why it’s so important to find the veterans who need help. The echoes of even a distant war can be haunting.

Lyon says that one PTSD client interviewed, “was already making preparations to go to Ukraine to join.” After pausing, the clinical psychologist adds. “I don’t think he’s going.”