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Maybe Half West Virginia Vets Suffer PTSD or Depression

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PHOTO: A new study by Morgantown psychologist Joseph Scotti found as many as half of West Virginia's 180,000 vets may be suffering from PTSD or depression. Photo: Dan Heyman.
PHOTO: A new study by Morgantown psychologist Joseph Scotti found as many as half of West Virginia's 180,000 vets may be suffering from PTSD or depression. Photo: Dan Heyman.
May 5, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As many as half of West Virginia military veterans of all ages suffer post-traumatic stress or depression (PTSD), according to a new study. Joseph Scotti, a psychologist in private practice specializing in trauma, conducted an extensive, in-depth survey of veterans for the state legislature. He says between 40 percent and 50 percent reported serious symptoms of PTSD or depression.

The good news is that talking to the right person can help, he says. The bad news, he adds, is that many haven't gotten treatment, so the survey found mental health issues in the elderly as well as in the recently deployed.

"It doesn't go away just because you want it to go away, or because somebody tells you to get over it. In fact, telling someone to get over it might make it worse," Scotti says.

Scotti says talking through a traumatic experience works. But he says it's hard, because you have to go over the parts you don't want to, again and again. Scotti says that means talking to someone who knows what they're doing, knows what to ask and has the resilience to work through it.

"Talking helps; shutting up doesn't," he says. "Sometimes people talk to their buddies. Buddies might be helpful; buddies might tell them to suck it up. Sucking it up just doesn't work."

A lot of things can trigger panic in someone with PTSD, he says, like seeing a box on the roadside that could hide an IED.

"Or you're scanning the treeline all the time. Or you don't like to be in crowds because things explode in crowds. A smell. Gasoline. Hearing a helicopter or a jet going overhead," he says.

Scotti's group surveyed 1,300 of the 180,000 vets in the state. He says they found many at elevated risk of suicide, especially those who have added stress on top of untreated trauma. He says many vets are living like they have one hand always keeping the lid down on a garbage can full of unresolved issues.

"Telling the full story is hard," he says, "but you're already struggling moment-to-moment, day-to-day, with keeping that stuff back there. And it's still on your mind."

Scotti delivered his findings to the spring conference of the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the largest event of its kind in the country.

The national Veterans' Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 by phone or www.veteranscrisisline.net by online chat.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV