PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Every day here in the U.S, it's estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide — most of them suffering from PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder.
It's a tragic yet important number to know on this PTSD Awareness Day.
Maine is not immune to the ravages of PTSD, which is where the Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services comes in.
The Portland-based program was started three years ago as a way of helping returning veterans who feel isolated, alienated or suicidal.
Tell-tale signs of PTSD? Not being able to keep a job, not being able to keep a sleeping schedule, not being able to do a lot of the basic things they were able to do before being deployed.
"On Memorial Day, my cousin shot himself,” Sally Papciak, an enlisted Air Force veteran shared.
She lost her cousin and a friend, members of her inner and outer circles, to the ravages of PTSD. Her husband is also touched by it. He retired from the Air Force in 2014.
“My husband had some anger issues and some withdrawal,” Papciak explained. “You do see a lot of separation from the families, whether it be literally or just pulling back, not being able to keep a job, not being able to keep a sleeping schedule, not being able to do a lot of basic things they’ve been able to do before. Before they were deployed.”
Papciak, who works as a Targeted Case Manager and Care Coordinator for Easter Seals Maine describes PTSD has tricky to diagnose. The signs are not always visible.
“Someone can seem to be doing well and then there’s a trigger. Someone may never have been diagnosed with PTSD — never felt that bad or shown signs of wanting to take their own life and then, before you know it, there’s an issue,” she said.
The illness, she explained further, goes with what a veteran sees, even if they’re not on the front lines.
“There’s three very large issues that can result in the very unfortunate suicide. One is financial assistance, one is relationship issues and the other is legal issues,” veteran and PTSD survivor Jeremy Kendall revealed. “And for veterans getting out that might suffer from an invisible PTSD sort of issue, any one of these three things can come to the forefront and they may not even know they’re having these issues,” Kendall continued.
Kendall runs the Military and Veterans Services program in Portland.
“We’ll step in and part of our process," Kendall said. "The evaluation process will identify these issues and then help them with their financial issues, help them with legal issues or help them build a stronger relationship network with their friends and family that will, in the end, avoid the feeling of being lost.”
“Once someone’s service is over, or at least interrupted for a period of time, many times veterans find themselves out of step,” explained Charlie Summers, Maine veteran and Navy Public Affairs Officer.
Summers, who recently stepped in as Executive Director of the Military and Veteran Services New England says the ideal program pairs veterans with veterans so “they can have commonality” and be encouraged to “come and ask for help."
The Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services aims to do just that. Summers, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, says he was lucky, though many of his friends and military family either didn’t make it home or returned physically or emotionally scarred. “Many times people kind of tamp it down, push it aside and don’t deal with it," he said. "They deal with it in other ways: alcohol, substance abuse.”
The goal of the Military and Veterans Services program is to reach those who are suffering before they reach the depths of suicidal despair.
Sally Papciak was able to reach one veteran who literally was ready to pull the trigger.
“He, well, he had the gun in his mouth,” she quietly explained. “He called me the next day. I was able to reach him. Now, he sounds fantastic, six months later.”
Reaching out for help, turns out, isn’t as easy as it may seem; particularly for members of the military.
“You actually exhibit a tremendous amount of strength when you can go and ask for help because military members, let’s face it, most of us — that’s not how we’re programmed,” Summers emphasized. “We’re programmed to help others, not to help ourselves.”
The Easter Seals program operates out of the group’s Presumpscot Street offices in Portland. Volunteers are available 24/7 to help veterans suffering from PTSD.
Contact them at (207) 828-0754, Ext. 1004.
Help can also be found through the VA Crisis Hotline at (800) 273-8255.
If it is an emergency, dial 9-1-1.