Locals to create PTSD support group

  • Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When Samuel Askins came home from his tour of combat duty in Iraq, things were normal - for about six months. That normalcy came to a screeching halt when delayed onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder set in. It resulted in paranoia that morphed into isolation and insanity.

At the time, he didn’t know what was wrong with him or that help was available,

Askins spent 16 years in the Army as an Airborne Infantryman. His PTSD was something that he equates to the end of Howard Hughes’ life.

“I holed up and isolated myself off from rest of the world. I was super medicated so I could sleep. I was on a lot different psychotropic medications given to me by the VA,” he said.

“PTSD for me stole everythig from me.”

He lost his marriage because of it he said. And even though he shares custody of his daughter with his ex-wife, they live in another state and he sees her only four times a year. His ex-wife is also in the military hence the move out-of-state.

“For a long time, my family didn’t even want anything to do with me. They thought of me as a crazy combat veteran. No one wanted to be around me I was so insane.”

During that time he received two DUI charges in the same year. He got into a lot of trouble in Pennsylvania, he said.

There he had a complete melt down, which he doesn’t even remember.

He was drunk and on Ambian and other medicines and woke up chained to a judge’s bench in little town. “Everyone was looking at me like I was a horrible criminal. I felt dead. Like I wanted to die,” he said.

Askins did 30 days in jail. When he went back to court for his bond hearing the judge gave him a PR bond and told him to go home to Texas and get help. “He said ‘you need help.’ And I agreed.”

Askins went through a 30 day drug and alcohol program in Houston and found The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Foundation of America. He started going to group meetings and volunteering his time there.

He eventually moved on to a program called the Mighty Oaks Foundation in Colorado where he stayed five months. He came back to Houston for the remainder of year to The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Foundation of America and never left.

He became the first full time resident of what is called Camp Hope.

“It was a rough year but totally worth it because it turned into something that gave me all the tools I needed to run Camp Hope.”

Askins is now the director of Camp Hope.

A local chapter

It is estimated that 45 percent of returning United States military men and women suffer from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Mount Pleasant resident Tripp Moye along with employees in the local Greystar firm have agreed to start a local chapter of the PTSD Foundation of America in Charleston. “We are basically trying to assist our troops in re-establishing themselves in society when they return,” he said.

A information meeting has been planned for Thursday, Feb. 7 from 1 - 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church in the Old Village, 440 Whilden Street.

Anyone interested in organizing a local chapter is invited to attend.

“Ideally what we are attempting to create is a similar structure to what they are creating in Houston. The Houston organization has teamed up with many national companies (Greystar, Glidden, Sherwin Williams, James Hardie, Redi Carpet, HD Supply, etc.) to build facilities to temporarily house these returning troops in need of treatment for PTSD,” Moye explained.

According to Nick Wilks, Associate Director PTSD USA, an introductory session is hosted primarily to let the community know there is a need. “Most people don’t know about combat PTSD and don’t understand how it affects our military. We have had tremendous response from every community once identifying the need,” Wilks explained. “We get the word out in start up communities and what we do from that point forward, is locate people who can qualify as mentors with a military background or a pastoral background.”

There is a Warrior group, strictly for those in combat the other is a family group for spouses, brothers, sisters, moms and dads of the combat veteran who don’t understand what their loved one is going through.

The sessions take both groups through two different books that are written parallel so each person understands what their significant other is going through and how to communicate with each other,” Wilks said.

Interested mentors must have the heart for the job and “want” to do it, he said. There is a 40 hour course, a tour of the Houston facility and a requirement to attend sessions for three weeks so that mentors can take back to their chapters, a full knowledge of the program and proper certification.

“This information meeting is a spring board to get groups involved. Local businesses and firms have contacts of their own, and can help us think of others who would want to get involved,” Wilks said.

PTSD was realistically brought home to Greystar in a tragic way when Executive Vice President Stacy Hunt’s son Clay committed suicide as a result of PTSD.

Following his heart, Clay joined the United States Marine Corps in May of 2005, completed the School of Infantry in 2006, and shipped out to Iraq in January of 2007 as part of the Second Battalion, Seventh Regiment of the U.S.M.C.

While on patrol in Anbar Province, near Fallujah, he was wounded in a sniper attack, earning a Purple Heart. Clay recuperated in 2007, and applied for and graduated from the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in February of 2008.

His scout sniper teams shipped out to an area near Sangin, Afghanistan in March of 2008 as part of NATO’s multi-national force deployed against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Clay’s unit returned to the states in October of 2008, and he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in April of 2009.

As Hunt fell into despair in the months after his discharge, he dropped out of college and his marriage fell apart. But he found new hope by reaching out to other veterans, appearing in the award-winning public service announcement by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

He helped build bikes for the group Ride 2 Recovery. And he joined the nonprofit group Team Rubicon, formed by Wood, which uses the talents of military veterans to provide humanitarian aid during disasters.

In fact, Wilks said, “he was reaching out to us and was supposed to meet with us the day before he took his own life.”

The Hunt family and the Greystar family decided this was an epidemic of great proportions and became involved. Their firms are located across the country and PTSD USA chapters are now forming in locations, such as Atlanta, San Diego, Charlotte and Charleston.

Camp Hope

This facility treats homeless combat veterans and has only one location in Houston. Askins said that he and his staff continue to build curriculum based on the needs of the residents and spend one-on-one time with the veterans pouring into each one their own experience, strength and hope of recovery. There is an alcohol and drug recovery program, PTSD sessions twice a day for the residents and men’s and women’s strengthening.

“It saved my life so I owe them my life. Anyone is one struggling, I want to help. And if I can help just one, then it makes it all worth it.”

Askins said he finally learned that when you work on your faith, that’s when you start to get better. “I happen to be a Christian and I started working on my beliefs from when I was a kid, Jesus, apple pie, momma and freedom. That’s when I started coming back around.”

He said it is still a daily struggle, even for him.

“I can get angry at the carpet that just hit my feet, and sometime I don’t feel safe in my own home. But I know how to stop and think about it and cognitively process these thoughts and rationalize them into just thoughts and probability. I work and think through it with the residents too until their faith and spiritual pillar is restored. Then they can go back into society and be the productive members they are trained to be - leaders, decision makers and forgers of the way.”

The tsunami

“The tsunami is coming in 2014 because all of these military people are coming home,” Wilks said.

He said that in Houston alone, there are 6,000 patients with PTSD trying to be seen at the local VA and only six doctors.

“You can imagine what happens. So we work with the VA and try to get any medical issues taken care of there regarding their patients and accept them back here at Camp Hope.” The staff then orients them with financial, legal, jobs or whatever assistance they may require to get them back into the civilian world.

Wilks said it usually takes about four months and the veteran will then continue to come back for the weekly sessions.”

Wilks explained that when a combat veteran comes back and they have PTSD severely, they withdraw. “It is an interesting phenomenon of fight or flight.

In a combat situation, these soldiers are under stress continually 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their deployment is usually around 15 months with very little down time between deployments,” he said.

“Soldiers are on constant alert. Physiologically the brain goes into a mode that can not shut down a constant state of alert and the individual can’t turn it off.

So they come back to civilian life and the only way to relax is to stay in the dark, in quiet, enclosed areas,” Wilks said.

“They don’t like crowds, noises and they can’t sleep at night - only during the day unless they are heavily medicated.”

Wilks said family and loved ones don’t understand and the veteran can’t explain it and gets angry about it and everything escalates from there. “Often times marriages end up in divorce, the veteran feels no value and when they can’t find a job, they get depressed,” he explained.

Currently The Center for Disease Control said that 18 active and retired military soldiers commit suicide each day. There were more suicides than combat deaths as a direct result of PTSD.

Local contacts

PTSD website www.PTSDUSA.org<http://www.PTSDUSA.org>

Tripp Moye (tmoye@chartwellholdings.com)

Todd Wigfield (twigfield@greystar.com)

The PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Foundation of America is a non-profit IRS 501c3 organization founded in 2008 in Houston, Texas.

All funding comes from the private sector.

Workshops and manuals are in conjunction with Military Ministries, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ, and the American Association of Christian Counselors.

They are written specifically for those experiencing PTSD.)

Please visit the foundation’s website at www.ptsdusa.net to learn more and see the news coverage and photos of the recent Camp Hope grand opening in Houston.

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