Not a day goes by that someone I have served with during my time in the US Army does not have some type of challenges, which vary from financial issues to suicidal ideations. Have you ever wondered if anyone has ever looked into the matter to find out what barriers are keeping service members from seeking help?
I have been reading a lot of research recently, riveting stuff, I know, but let me focus on some of the factors listed in a study entitled A Qualitative Study of Determinants of PTSD Treatment Initiation in Veterans. Be warned, if PTSD is part of your life, these will hit home.
First, service members (SM) want to avoid any memories or feelings of trauma. In the military we will avoid discussing and working through events. When we are doing Master Resilience Training (MRT), we mock modules such as icebergs and ATC (Activating Event Thoughts and Consequences) rather than using them to work through some issues. We self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco, vaping, sex, drugs, and any time we start to feel pain and sadness we up the dosage.
The second barrier is Values and Priorities that Conflict with Treatment-Seeking. The military builds us up to be ultimate fighting machines. From basic training and onward any service member that cannot cut the mustard is identified and mocked. We are trained to be self-reliant, which is a good thing, but remember that the Army is not made of one. We have battle buddies; we have a chain of command, so no matter the culture we do need to make sure we reach out to the right people when necessary.
The third barrier is Treatment Discouraging Beliefs. We doubt treatments and the abilities of others to help us. We don’t want to be perceived as week, crazy, incompetent, or out of control. We surround ourselves with others who have challenges to feel normal.
The fourth barrier is Health Care System Concerns. For many service members, they face challenges in receiving care through the Veterans Affairs system and some service members believe civilian providers lack the experience or expertise to assist. I believe more work needs to be done so support service members who do not want a traditional path.
I would love to see service members encouraged more to purchase healthy foods, so their bodies are able to better perform in the face of the many challenges they face. There is research that shows that PTSD can be a symptom from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I recently spent time with Dr. Carol Henricks who is a medical doctor in Tucson, Arizona and she has found that treating Traumatic Brain Injuries will help significantly with PTSD. Right now, her team is using a hyperbaric chamber to heal service members. Her work is fascinating and is on the cutting edge of treating PTSD. Long term massage therapy, chiropractic care, and other naturopathic approaches should be well known options for every service member when seeking treatment for their injuries.
Many times, service members do not know what supports are available to them. This is the fifth barrier to seeking help. Through the nonprofit, the Archangels, I serve as President and CEO of I have started a YouTube Channel in order to start begin gathering these resources.
The sixth obstacle is Access Barriers, such as not having time, not understanding how to enroll, and other daily life challenges. The military is trying to combat this with programs such as the Soldier for Life Transfer Assistance Program (SFL-TAP), but many SMs are just concerned about getting out. How much do service members retain from “Death by PowerPoint”? Not much.
The seventh pillar that stands as a barrier is Invalidating Post-Trauma Socio-Cultural Environment. This one is a mouthful but basically, we don’t want to be rejected by friends and family so we fake the funk. We don’t want to be held up at medical upon return from deployment causing us to miss a welcome home celebration. Ever have any friends or yourself who have been going through a tough time and they withdraw from social media or other connections? This does not typically help but makes things worse as studies have shown that interacting with your fellow service members, especially those who are trying to improve their lives, is healthy. This is a major reason why The Archangels are always doing projects like free art clinics or other activities that all service members to interact with each other.
I found after my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that creativity was very good for my brain. Our organization is currently working with Ohana Resin Designs to help service members create beautiful resin designs such as American flags, service flags, and others through a two-day workshop.
This art workshop is just one of the many projects we are working on because we believe that one must serve to be happy, in uniform or beyond. If we find ourselves, a battle buddy, a subordinate, or even a superior in a dark place we want to be cognizant of the stigmas and other determinants that hold SMs back and rather than reinforce these barriers, we want to be prepared to reach out our hand in love and friendship and lift up our fellow service members.
About the author:
Sean Stoddard (email: [email protected]) holds two Military Occupational Specialties including 31B Military Police and 38B Civil Affairs. He is currently serving in the United States Army Reserves as the 1SG for a Civil Affairs company. He has deployed four times including three deployments as a Military Police Soldier/NCO to Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He serves as a civilian police officer for a large city police department. He is the founder, president, and CEO of The Archangels, a non-profit that assists military, veterans, and first responders. He is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology from Arizona State University (Summa Cum Laude) and serves in his local church.
About the Archangels
The Archangels derives their name from the 56thMilitary Police Company’s deployment to Iraq, as the 3rdplatoon was known as “The Archangels”. The logo utilized by the non-profit was utilized by the platoon during the deployment. Two of the founding members served as original Archangels and have sought to assist their fellow service members. Due to President Stoddard’s first responder ties, the Archangels serve first responders, as well. The Archangels is a well-structured organization, and everyone involved in the non-profit is a volunteer. 100% of all donations go to help military, veterans, and first responders. The organization serves through partnering with other organizations on education campaigns, conducting equine and art therapy clinics, and feeding homeless veterans.