More Than a Memory: A Captain’s Experience With PTSD

From www.DCoE.health.mil
Posted by Robyn Mincher, DCoE Strategic Communications

After a patrol in Baghdad. From L to R: Army Sgt. Jonathan Kindem, Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Robbins, Army Capt. Adrian Veseth-Nelson and Lucas Lewis. (Courtesy photo)

Army Capt. Adrian Veseth-Nelson was 24 years old when he received the U.S. Army Bronze Star for Valor for his efforts that stopped a group of insurgents in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“After securing a convoy that was ambushed, my guys got hit by a drive-by shooting. My wingman spotted the shooters in a black sedan. They parked on the side of a school yard and started shooting machine guns. We had to do something,” said Veseth-Nelson. “We chased them onto a crowded entrance to a highway at 65 miles per hour, and I told my driver to ram them. It was out of a movie.”

A survivor, who they pulled out of the wreckage of the insurgent’s vehicle, threw a grenade at them. Fortunately, it didn’t detonate; it was the only one of the 15 grenades later found in the car without a fuse. Veseth-Nelson’s unit was safe, and the sole surviving, injured insurgent was taken away by police.

Once he returned to the states, Veseth-Nelson was considered a home-town hero — respected by family, friends and fans. Celebrations were in abundance, but for Veseth-Nelson, the indulgence didn’t end.

“I was easily drinking two six-packs a day and sometimes would come to work with alcohol on my breath,” he said. “Just like everyone else, I was happy that I was alive. I didn’t know the line between that and self-medicating.”

What Veseth-Nelson didn’t know was that he was self-medicating to cope with symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He developed behavioral and physiological symptoms like disturbed sleep, fluctuating weight, extreme road rage and general anger.

“My first response to any threat was to fight. I even flashed my gun at my colleague,” he said. “My boss pulled me aside and said I needed to change things. He knew the Adrian who he used to see wasn’t the one he was seeing right now.”

Veseth-Nelson took a proactive approach to treatment; he sought out a psychologist on base.

“My psychologist saw my PTSD for what it was,” he said. “She recommended the Specialized Care Program.”

The Specialized Care Program, run by Deployment Health Clinical Center, a DCoE component center, is a three-week multi-disciplinary treatment program for service members and veterans coping with deployment-related stress and PTSD. The program combines group therapy and one-on-one sessions that give participants tools to address psychological health concerns.

“I was immersed in an environment where people really care. Yet you had to be active in participating and be vocal because you only get out of it what you put into it,” Veseth-Nelson said. “It’s an amazing program that brought me back to my true self. It changed my life.”

While Veseth-Nelson has retired from the Army, he, along with his wife Diana, are very active in the military community, giving speeches and holding seminars about their own experiences while encouraging service members, veterans and families to reach out for help if needed.

“After some soul-searching, I realized that I even though I couldn’t be the combat leader that I was, it doesn’t mean I can’t help my country,” he said. “What I am doing now is helping people with PTSD as an extension of that service. I use my position as an officer and a war veteran to break the stigma wherever I possibly can.”

Stay tuned for Diana Veseth-Nelson’s DCoE Blog post about coping with PTSD as a military wife.

Visit DHCC’s Specialized Care Program for more information. Also, if you have questions related to psychological health or traumatic brain injury, you can contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 at 866-966-1020 or email resources@dcoeoutreach.org to connect to a health resource consultant.

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  • Firebug_70

    I am sorry, I am a 23+ year military veteran still on active duty and have been on multiple deployments and I am still having a hard time understanding all of these folks going on about “I have PTSD, feel sorry for me”  I am so tired of hearing this cop out!  Go to the gym, read a book, listen to music, anything to take your mind off of the rigors and horrors of combat.  I too have seen many things that I do not care to repeat to people that have not been in that situation.  But I will say I am NOT trying to get sympathy or disability payments because of my experience.  Wake up!  Put on your big girl panties and stop crying!

    • Guest

      It seems to me that this is a fine example of the “general anger” as cited as a symptom of PTSD above. Perhaps you should re read this article and realize this man is not trying to get sympathy or unemployment. In fact, he overtly states he is looking for a new way to serve his country and fellow servicemen and women. You most definitely get big points for opening up your eyes and actually READING, though.

    • SRB277

      To Firebug,
      Seriously? You can’t get PTSD spending 23+ years behind a desk where the worst thing you saw was a roach next to the donuts. YOU grow up and show some sympathy toward people with PTSD. Thank you, good day.

  • Christina Arrington

    So nice to hear recovery stories dealing with PTSD.  My dad had it and the final outcome was not nearly as happy.  Thank you for continuing to educate soldiers and the community that this is treatable and recovery can happen.  God Bless.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Quincy/100002350507545 John Quincy

    It’s good to read a story about a veteran getting help with PTSD. The DoD and the VA seem to truly have addressed the issue head on. There are plenty of resources available, leaders have removed the stigma from seeking help and I encourage everyone who has been deployed to get screened for PTSD. Sit down with a Military Family Life Consultant, VA psychologist or other professional and talk about what you’ve seen, even if you rarely left a base or were never fired upon. Get screened, because the first response is to Soldier through it. What if you Soldier on, only to find out 5 years later you’re really hurting and you could have gotten help so much earlier. If you’re not suffering, you’re only out the length of the office visit. But if you do have PTSD there are a lot of good folks out there who can teach you how to cope without drugs and alcohol. My aunt works for a state VA home and she says the biggest problem they see in Vietnam veterans is alcohol and drug abuse. Don’t end up like that; don’t self medicate for decades when you can get help now, just call the VA or your medical clinic.