PTSD help is available for veterans, Birmingham VA Chief of Staff says treatment works

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Last week two officers responded to a call at the Stadium Apartments in Huntsville. a woman was killed in the encounter that followed.

The officers were responding to a call that said the woman was waving a gun. Some neighbors dispute the claim, saying Crystal Ragland mostly kept to herself.

Ragland, 32, was in the U.S. Army for more than three years, including a deployment in Iraq from March 2010 to August 2011, the U.S. Army told WHNT News 19.

Her family says Ragland suffered from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from her time in the Army.

She's not alone, according to the VA.

Looking for help for PTSD? 

When veterans get PTSD, it’s usually related to combat experience or near-combat experience. The VA says 12 to 20 percent of veterans who served in the recent past have PTSD. Women more likely to develop it, men are more likely to experience a traumatic event.

Dr. Ladi Kukoyi is a psychiatrist, family physician and chief of staff for the Birmingham VA, responsible for medical care for nearly 70,000 veterans in North Alabama.

"What PTSD represents is when someone has been exposed to a traumatic event, that makes you feel like your personal sense of safety is at risk," he said.

Dr. Kukoyi says he'll sometimes compare it to a home alarm system, but now the homeowner-veteran is dealing with false alarms.

"Well if your alarm doesn’t work properly after that, it starts going off for everything, instead of only going off for real bad things," Kukoyi said. "That’s what I describe to my veterans that PTSD is like."

He said PTSD is the body’s way of trying to heal, but it takes a toll.

"It’s an alarm system that’s been hijacked, so our job is to turn back the alarm to so that it only sets off when there’s real danger around you," Dr. Kukoyi said.

The alarm can be set off – in older veterans – by a bowl of rice, which takes them back to being a  POW," he said. "In younger veterans, something by the side of the road reminds them of IEDS in Iraq and Afghanistan and they have to pull over.

It makes people isolated.  Neighbors described Crystal Ragland as rarely leaving her apartment, though she seemed angry the day before he fatal encounter with police.

Anger, depression and self-medicating are common related problems, Dr. Kukoyi said.

"It keeps you away from people that love you, because you don’t trust the world," he said. "That’s what PTSD is really good at doing, makes you not trust anybody or anything."

Dr. Kukoyi says popular media portrays wounded warriors damaged by PTSD as looking to take it out on others. He said the medical literature and research data doesn’t support that picture.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "People with mental injuries are more likely to be victims than perpetrators."

But he says help is available and it works. He said talk therapy, where veterans are allowed to talk through their concerns and be reminded that the conditions in combat that left them thinking everyone is out to kill them, don't apply back home. He said it takes some time, but it's effective . Medication can also help in some cases, he said.

"The VA  is the place to come get help, with our sites, with our website, with technology, you won’t find anywhere better," Dr. Kukoyi said. "And I want veterans to know there’s hope, we can treat it, you can get better."

 

 

 

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