Increased PTSD Awareness Raises Homecoming Questions

Nov. 10, 2014, 6:30 a.m. ·

Homecoming programs like the Heartland Honor Flight in Nebraska have made it possible for veterans of World War II and the Korean War to experience the kind of welcome homecoming so many were deprived of when they returned from war. (Photo by NET News).

Listen To This Story

Dr. Krista Krebbs is a Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Specialist and Psychologist with the Department of Veteran Affairs Hospital in Grand Island, Nebraska. She spoke with NET News about her experience working with veterans suffering from PTSD, and the role troop homecomings play in their symptoms and recovery.

NET NEWS: We’ve seen homecomings for troops vary significantly over the years, and they’re relative to the public perception of the war or theatre war that the returning troops were involved in. In your position working with veterans, how often does their homecoming come up?

DR. KRISTA KREBS: Actually, very frequently. Especially for Vietnam veterans. As I was thinking about talking about this today, I was searching my mind to see if I could recall any Vietnam veterans that I’ve seen in the course of my work here telling me a positive homecoming story. I couldn’t think of one. I couldn’t think of ONE. For Vietnam veterans, it’s something that shows up frequently because so many that I talk to came home either to feeling rejected and punished, or being met with indifference. I think it actually comes up less from the more recent veterans. It gets brought up less by them. I’m hopeful that that’s because they get a much more welcoming homecoming.

NET NEWS: It seems that awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder is at an all-time high right now. In previous years and in the aftermath of former wars, that wasn’t really the case. With the veterans you work with, have you seen a difference between different age groups or veterans of different wars, in coping with PTSD?

DR. KREBS: In terms of coping with it, it’s striking in my work that there’s so much similarity, actually. While there’s certainly much more awareness, time, and energy devoted to trying to reach out to veterans who might be having PTSD symptoms, I can tell you, that just from my work, that it seems like when I’m talking with a current veteran - somebody who just got back from overseas - they’re experiencing and talking in a way that sounds just like our older veterans. In terms of the symptoms of PTSD and the way that it can wreak havoc in people’s lives, you almost can’t tell from the way that people talk, which era they come from. If you had a transcript you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell. It’s a very interesting thing.

NET NEWS: In the film you say that while a good homecoming certainly can’t help or heal PTSD, a bad one can make it worse. Can you elaborate on that?

Dr. Krista Krebs is a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) specialist and psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (Photo by NET News)

DR. KREBS: Yes, I think the biggest issue when people are struggling, and having these symptoms, the biggest urge they express or feel is the wish to keep it to themselves or hide it and not seek help. Overcoming that kind of avoidance is really the biggest problem in PTSD work. Having a homecoming where we are not only acknowledging veterans’ service and welcoming them back, but hopefully that there’s a process showing them we’re so glad they’re back and we’ve missed them. We anticipate that many of them are struggling and we need to do something about that. Giving an open door as part of that process of saying "come back home" I think that can be incredibly helpful and if there’s anything less than that, I think it only adds to the avoidance.

NET NEWS: In that same vein, what sort of feedback have you had from veterans, who have maybe had the chance to experience a delayed homecoming - one like the Honor Flight project, for example?

DR. KREBS: Oh, when veterans have told me about times when they’re been thanked for their service and that’s never happened to them before, or when they have the opportunity to take part in any kind of welcome home ceremony, it’s so powerful. I think it doesn’t seem to matter how many decades it’s been. Veterans experience that as so poignant and so loving and they’re often times overwhelmed by it. I think it doesn’t seem to matter how much time has passed. It’s valuable no matter when it happens.

NET NEWS: I’m curious, there’s another section in our documentary where you mention that sometimes with these homecomings, returning troops can feel a guilt. Is that a situation you run into very often with your cases?

DR. KREBS: Yeah, and I think undeserved shame and guilt show up for people frequently when trauma is involved. I think that’s across-the-board, whether we’re talking about veterans or civilians. I think it’s frequently the case that veterans might have memories of an event that didn’t go the way they wanted it to. Very often they go back and back over it in their mind and feel as if they failed somehow or feel as if they should have been able to keep everyone safe. Everyone should be able to come home from war without loss. Of course they know logically that’s not possible but when it does happen often people in the aftermath feel as if somehow it’s their fault. That shows up very frequently.

Watch the NET News documentary "Homecoming: The Impact on Nebraska Veterans" for more information on these issues. It will air Monday, November 10th, at 9:00 p.m. CT on NET1 Television and Tuesday, November 11th, at 6:30 p.m. on NET Radio. You can also check out our website for more videos and information by clicking here