Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trauma: More women in combat means more mothers with PTSD

More women in combat means more mothers with PTSD
By Kyra Phillips and Michael Cary, CNN
updated 11:31 AM EST, Tue December 13, 2011
Female veterans coping with PTSD
  • Staff Sgt. June Moss was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in the Iraq war
  • As more women see combat, more female vets are suffering from PTSD
  • Treatment helps, but Moss worries about slipping back into depression
  • Today, Moss has gotten over her fear of crowds
Palo Alto, California (CNN) -- It wasn't until five months after Army Staff Sgt. June Moss returned from the Iraq war in 2003 that her real battle began. The horrors of the war -- witnessing decapitated and burned bodies amid mass destruction -- led to post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I do notice when I'm stressing out that I start having dreams about what I saw and how I felt," says Moss, now 40 and retired from the Army. "It does come back as if to haunt you."

The percentage of women in the military has doubled in the last 30 years, with more than 350,000 serving as of 2009, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs' latest figures. With more female troops in combat, there has been an increase in PTSD diagnoses: One in five female veterans suffer from PTSD, according to the VA.

As a light-vehicle mechanic, Moss drove across Baghdad and provided security at checkpoints during her combat tour in Iraq. When she returned home, she became overly protective of her two children, fearing that someone was going to kidnap or harm them.

At the same time, she hunkered down inside her home, staying in bed, because she says it was too hard to face the most mundane tasks such as shopping.

"It was crazy. I couldn't even do crowds. It reminded me when we were in a marketplace (in Iraq), and we didn't know if somebody was out there to kill us," Moss explains. "I'm back home, and I didn't have to worry about a suicide bomber, but I still felt as if there was one lurking in the mall or the grocery store."
Army Staff Sgt. June Moss provided checkpoint security in Baghdad during the Iraq War.
Army Staff Sgt. June Moss provided checkpoint security in Baghdad during the Iraq War.
Six years ago, she contemplated cutting her wrists to end the pain. Today, Moss has progressed significantly after specialized therapy provided by the local Veterans Affairs in Palo Alto, California, where the focus is on female vets like herself.

"Women tend to be diagnosed more often, at least with our recent returnees, with depression, whereas men are being diagnosed more often with substance abuse," says Natara Garovoy, program director of the Women's Prevention, Outreach & Education Center at VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Garovoy says recent studies show the percentage of women veterans suffering from PTSD is on par with the percentage of men: 20%.

"Women are exposed to combat now more than ever before, and they're proving to be just as resilient to those exposures as men," he said.

There is no cure for PTSD, only treatment.

"It takes a lot to live with PTSD," Moss says. "I hate to compare it with being an alcoholic, because I'm not one, but that's the best description I can give. You're always one incident from spiraling out of control back to where you were -- being depressed, not coming out of the house, not being able to sleep, having night terrors, night sweats, all those kinds of things."
Today, with the help of her local VA, June Moss has gotten treatment for her PTSD.
Today, with the help of her local VA, June Moss has gotten treatment for her PTSD.
Moss attributes an angry outburst in her workplace last year to PTSD, after she says she had become complacent with her treatment. Moss physically struck a fellow employee with whom she was romantically involved.

"I just went off. It went from verbal to physical. And, thank God, I didn't lose my job over it. But I did get in trouble," says Moss, who was suspended for three days without pay. "Those feelings came out of nowhere."
Moss says she realized that even years later, she needed to actively engage in her weekly therapy. She also turned to her boss, the chaplain at the Palo Alto VA, to focus on her spirituality.

"I'm constantly working on how I'm thinking," Moss says of her regimen today, which includes morning meditation, listening to gospel music and exercising.

It takes a lot to live with PTSD. ... You're always one incident from spiraling out of control.
Retired Staff Sgt. June Moss
Her new mantra: "Staying positive and keeping negativity out of my life!"

Moss has lost 40 pounds in the last two years and is pursuing a degree in human resource management at San Francisco's Golden Gate University.

Moss beams with pride when she discusses recent steps in her therapy made within the last six months. She went on a trip by herself to Philadelphia while her teenage children went away to camp. She says technology, like video chat, helped her make such a stride. Moss also took her daughter to a concert in October, braving a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.

"It's a big deal to know that from then to now, I've come a long way," Moss says with a smile. "From head to toe, I'm a better me."

CNN's Linda Hall contributed to this report.

2nd National ASU HBCU Conference. March 5-7, 2012

Save the Date information for the Conference

Perceptions of discrimination: A black and white story

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – A study that examines three years of opinion survey data says that black and white Americans are still miles apart regarding their perceptions of equality or inequality among blacks and whites. It identifies racial bias among whites as a potential reason for that difference in perception.

"Post-Racial? Americans and Race in the Age of Obama," released Monday by the nonprofit Greenlining Institute, found a link between white survey respondents' perception of blacks and whether they believed discriminition to be a major problem in today's society.

When asked how much discimination currently exists in America, 56.4% of black respondents said there was "a lot." Among Latinos, 26.9% gave that answer. About the same amount – 26% – of respondents who reported their race as "other" said that. But only 16% of white respondents said they thought "a lot" of discrimination existed in today’s America. The majority of white respondents said there was either "some" (44.4%) or "a little" (39.5%) discrimination.

White people who said there was "some" or "a little" discrimination were more likely to agree with statements such as "Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up.

Blacks should do the same without any special favors," and, "It’s really just a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites."

The Greenlining Institute study analyzed data from the American National Election Panel Survey (ANES) conducted by the University of Michigan and Stanford University, as well as census data. The ANES researchers spoke with a representative sample of about 1,800 Americans on 12 occasions between January 2008 and July 2010. Greenlining is a nonprofit policy and leadership institute whose stated goal is to work for economic and racial equality.

"Americans are diversifying and if we want to keep ahead and keep America going forward, we have to acknowledge these disparities. If we don’t, it makes it hard to tackle them," said Dr. Daniel Byrd, the Greenlining Institute's research director and the study’s primary author.

Tim Wise is anti-racist essayist and activist whose work often deals with white responses to racism.  He says that white disbelief in black claims of discrimination is nothing new – and that white people need to take a closer look at why so many people of color believe they are subject to prejudice.

"I think they need to reflect on why there’s such a division," said Wise, who is white. "There’s only two ways you can interpret it: You can either interpret that [black people] are insane and borderline neurotic, that they don't know their own life; or you could look at it and say maybe black people do know their own life, and maybe it's worth listening to them about it."

Among the study's other findings:
  • Although 62% of white people questioned in the survey believed that blacks'  level of health was about the same as their own, only 43.8% of blacks agreed. But according to statistical data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Office of Minority Health, there are definite disparities in health and health care.  As of 2007, white life expectancy at birth was 4.8 years higher than for blacks.  The infant mortality rate among black women was almost two and a half times higher than for white women. The asthma rate among black children is double that of white children.
  • More than two-thirds of black people surveyed (67%) believed that black people in general make less money than whites. But the majority of whites (59%) believed that they made about the same. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, blacks' median weekly earnings were as much as $500 less than the median earnings of whites between 2009 and 2011.
  • Another question asked who the U.S. government treated better: blacks or whites. Twenty-eight percent of whites believed that blacks were treated better, and 63% thought the races were treated about equally. But only 1 percent of blacks thought they were treated better, and most blacks believed that whites either received better treatment  (56.4%) or were treated about the same by the federal government (42.5%).
Why is there such a gap between how much discrimination is reported by blacks versus how much is believed to exist by whites? Wise says that the reason why whites don’t know or don't acknowledge the racism or discrimination experienced by blacks and other people of color is because they don't have to know or acknowledge it.

"No matter what I want to do with my life, to demonstrate that I know the reality of people of color is not going to be on the test," Wise said.

            "But for people of color to get a job, any job, they’re going to have to
              know the things that white folks in those fields think are valuable pieces
              of information...............................................

              People of color have to know white knowledge, white wisdom,
              and what their experience is, but white people don’t have to know
              the experiences of people of color."

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