Giving An Hour For A Lifetime Of Hope

June 16, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — More U.S. Marines and soldiers are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with diagnoses of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, bringing the long-lasting horrors of war home with them.

Recent U.S. Army statistics revealed that new PTSD cases jumped by nearly 50 percent in 2007 over the previous year, from 6,800 to 10,000. The Marine Corps recorded 2,100 new cases last year, up from 1,366 reported the previous year. The Veterans Affairs Department said 60,000 returning Marine and Army personnel had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Those reports, of course, don’t include the Marines and soldiers who are suffering but haven’t sought help due to the stigma sometimes attached to mental illness. The figures also don’t reveal how many who have been diagnosed actually are getting the treatment they need due to the overwhelming number that need help.

Dr. Barbara Romberg, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist, saw this grim situation coming three years ago when she started Give an Hour in 2005. Her nonprofit organization asks mental health providers throughout the county to spend one hour every week counseling returning military personnel and their families for free.

As of last week, one local psychotherapist had volunteered to do just that.

Carolyn Carino, of the Grand Rapids Center for Psychotherapy, said she got involved with Give an Hour three months ago, largely because of her experiences with her father and the other World War II veterans she has informally spoken with over the past five years.

“It all started because my father was a Marine in World War II. When I was growing up, he had some odd behaviors. We’d be walking through the woods and he would react really strongly if we broke twigs. Then he was frightened of snakes, and he was a huge guy, a big Marine,” she said.

“He never talked about his experiences in the Marine Corps, but he would march us. He used to think it was great when I would sing the ‘Halls of Montezuma,’ but whenever war was mentioned, he’d shut right down.”

Charles Hutchings, her father, attained the rank of 1st Lieutenant during his 20 years in the Corps. After his death in 2003, Carino started speaking with WWII veterans at reunions and found they were still carrying the effects of PTSD well into their 80s.

“A lot of them had attacked their wives in the middle of the night thinking they were the enemy and were ashamed of it. They were ashamed of the things they did while they were in the Pacific Theater. They didn’t get the press coverage then that is given today, and some of the things they did weren’t in the Geneva Conventions, but they were at war with an enemy that wouldn’t surrender. So it was kill or be killed,” she said.

“One of the men told me lined his foxhole with Japanese skulls. He called it ‘going around the bend.’ The shame and pain he was feeling … I don’t know why they told me these things, but I would cry with them. One veteran told me that there is something wrong with you if you don’t come out damaged.”

Although Carino has registered with Give an Hour, she is still waiting for the first veteran to call her. In addition to counseling for PTSD, she also does marital, family, substance abuse and bereavement therapy.

Carino and psychologist Michael Ryan will talk about the importance of science-based treatments for PTSD Tuesday evening in Loosemore Auditorium on the Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University. The free event begins at 7:30 and includes Jim Hodges, a Vietnam vet who will speak about his combat experience.

Carino told the Business Journal that she wants to make at least one major point at the conference about PSTD and the vets who have it.

“Civilized behavior at our homes is easy to do, but combat is not civilized. And if people react in the way some did after Vietnam as a response to the veterans returning, it just helps them shutdown more. So I think it’s really important for us to separate the war from the veterans,” she said.

“We’re not doing a political forum at all with this presentation. It’s just about helping some people as a grassroots effort, which goes along with Give an Hour.”

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