Getting Help for PTSD

Knoxville doesn't have a VA hospital. There's a vet center and an outpatient clinic. But the main regional medical center for veterans is in Johnson City, nearly two hours away. The Knoxville clinic on Ray Mears Boulevard offers women's basic health services, but if any veteran—man or woman—needs specialty care, he or she must go to Johnson City's Mountain Home VA Medical Center.

There's also an emergency room at the Mountain Home medical center. Veterans enrolled in the VA Health System can go to a non-VA emergency room if one isn't immediately accessible to them, but they'll only have stabilizing treatment paid for.

Dr. Patrick Sloan, the deputy chief of staff for mental health at the Mountain Home medical center, says the hospital has made a concerted effort to hire more female staff members and to match female vets with female doctors, if that's a strong preference. Sloan is an expert on PTSD, and says women veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to isolate themselves and put off seeking care because they're usually primary caregivers for their children.

Both men and women show the same basic symptoms of PTSD, Sloan says, but "there is a difference between sexual trauma and combat trauma." (Sloan says about the same number of men are treated for military sexual trauma as women at the Mountain Home medical center.)

Victims of sexual assault or harassment, he says, usually have more relationship and trust issues, and might feel more embarrassed about why they're traumatized. Combat trauma tends to be situation-specific, Sloan says, but not always. He says multiple deployments, a faceless enemy, the constant stress and general uncertainty about being in a war zone all contribute to combat trauma.

"The more folks are exposed to just being in the danger zone, the more likely they are to develop PTSD," Sloan says. "Everything about being a soldier during wartime can be a risk [for PTSD]."

Sloan says that the culture of the military, which—purposely or not—stigmatizes weakness, probably contributes to veterans' hesitance to get help for a mental condition, especially since mental illness is stigmatized by society as a whole. That stigma, in conjunction with veterans' main priorities of getting home to their families, could contribute to undiagnosed PTSD.

"There's no need to suffer," Sloan says. "It never hurts to come in and start with a physical."

Resources:

Mountain Home Medical Center, Johnson City

423-926-1171

William C. Tallent Outpatient Clinic, Knoxville

865-545-4592

Veterans Crisis Hotline

1-800-273-8255

Women Veterans of America Chapter 44

wvachapter44.org

Women Marines Association Rock Top TN-Chapter 1

wmatn1.org

Corrected: It's the William C. Tallent Outpatient Clinic, not "Tell"