PHOENIX -- They fought for our country, but as more veterans return home from the combat zone, many will be battling another war.
When Dawn Lake got back from serving in Afghanistan in 2004, the retired Army lieutenant colonel couldn't help but feel like she was still in a war zone.
“My next immediate thought was to get my weapon to make sure it was locked and loaded,” Lake said.
Day and night, Lake was haunted, but she didn't realize it.
“There were certain sights and sounds and smells that will take me back there,” Lake said.
Lake was diagnosed with a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder we will hear a lot about as more vets return from war.
“Generally in the first few moments of that trauma is a sigh of relief,” Fred Irwin said. “But what follows after that in the days, weeks and months is the symptoms of PTSD."
Irwin is with the Arizona Department of Veterans Services. He said a lot of military personnel suffer in silence.
“It's that embarrassment factor or it's the fact that they have to deal with their own PTSD,” Irwin said.
But help is available. Just ask US Army veteran Chris Antoniou. He did a tour in Iraq between 2003 and 2005.
“After being away for 18 months, it was a huge adjustment to be back in society,” Antoniou said.
He manages his PTSD symptoms at the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
“Trauma focused therapies are therapies in which the patient and the therapist actually talk in detail about the traumatic experiences that the patient has had,” Dr. Leslie Telfer said.
Telfer is a clinical psychologist at the Phoenix VA. She said giving veterans the forum to talk about their traumatic experiences can be a life-changer.
“We think that PTSD is the result of never having had that chance to really emotional process or come to terms with some of the terrible things that happened to you,” Telfer continued.
While Antoniou and Lake took a stand and got help, they hope that by sharing their stories, other veterans with PTSD will do the same.
“The triggers are always going to be there, but slowly I’m dealing with them a lot better,” Antoniou said.
“I would like commanders to be more sensitive," Lake said. "It's not about being wimps, it's an actual process that occurs and I think we should acknowledge it.”
For more information on PTSD programs at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, log onto www.phoenix.va.gov.