Leo* is 22 years old – the same age most young adults finish college and land their first job.
But not Leo.
He’s spent the last four years in and out of rehab in an attempt to overcome his opioid use that began shortly after he joined the Air Force at 17.
While Leo’s friends were moving into their post-college careers, Leo was serving in a combat warzone as an infantry medic, both on the frontline and at the level-3 medical unit (highest level of care in a combat zone) he was assigned to.
Unlike his childhood friends, Leo wasn’t catching up with colleagues around the water cooler – he was busy saving life and limb.
Many people assume every military service member suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). And while many of our nation’s men and women may experience service-connected PTS like Leo, not all do, and not for the reasons you might think.
This blog will explore some of the ways PTS affects the lives of New Hampshire’s veteran residents, especially those who find themselves at Liberty House in Manchester:
Jimmy is another veteran resident who has been relapsing from his drug addiction off and on for the past seven years.
Jimmy’s drug use started before he joined the Marines but resurfaced once he found himself in an unfamiliar environment. His attempts to “numb the stress” of a new assignment, quickly spiraled into a full-blown drug addiction and a subsequent fight to stay in the service.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, repeatedly missing muster (morning roll-call) and a positive urine test ultimately resulted in his discharge from the service – an event that would affect his ability to find a stable job in the years to come.
Men like Leo and Jimmy have two things in common: they both deal with the invisible wounds of PTS and they both have a fighting chance thanks to Liberty House, a program of Catholic Charities that helps New Hampshire veterans learn to manage their PTS and work through their substance addictions using a time-tested 4-step program.
What is PTS and How Does it Show Up?
According to the American Psychiatric, PTS is classified as someone who has experienced exposure to a traumatic or stressful event resulting in chronic manifestations that interfere with a person’s ability to function and operate in a healthy and productive manner.
The impact on New Hampshire’s veterans are staggering considering the Granite State has some of the highest substance use disorder rates in the country.
And while many veterans experience traumatic or stressful events during their time of service, not all PTS begins with the military and not all are a result of being assigned a role in a combat environment.
PTS and Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
According to the Veterans Administration, almost one out of every three service members seeking help for SUD also suffers from PTS. Veterans like Leo and Jimmy often develop a SUD to help them sleep, get through the stress of everyday life, or to avoid the memories of the event itself.
Most people find healthy ways to manage their stress but it doesn’t always work out that way for the service member trying to manage concurring PTS and SUD.
The best way to help someone you know that suffers from PTS and/or SUD is to connect them with a mental health provider or program that understands the unique circumstances that affect our men and women in (and out) of uniform. One of those is Liberty House, the Catholic Charities NH program based right here in Manchester.
The Liberty House Difference
Despite the ramifications of PTS on everyday life, there is hope, especially for New Hampshire veterans served through Liberty House. Through a proven Four-Step Program, Liberty House is helping rebuild lives – over 400 residents and counting since 2004 – one step at a time.
It Takes a Village
Helping a veteran overcome the obstacles of PTS, substance use disorder, and homelessness isn’t fought in a vacuum – it’s fought with hard work and determination on the part of the vet, and it’s supported with thoughtfulness, compassion, and Liberty House’s Four-Step Program.
For men like Jimmy – who now has a milestone of 64 days of sobriety (his previous substance-use-free streak was using every three days prior to coming to Liberty House) – and Leo – who is working on his sobriety and working to get a job – the days spent at Liberty House are giving them new skills to better cope with the stressors of life.
Programs like Liberty House are vital to combating the stigma and realities of PTS – the hope and futures of veterans in New Hampshire depend on it.
If you or someone you loved who has served needs help, please contact:
*names have been changed to maintain privacy.