Veteran urges returning troops to seek emotional support

Patrick Thibeault

The picture on the cover of Patrick Thibeault's book, My Journey as a Combat Medic, shows him helping a little girl in Afghanistan in 2005. Thibeault is a man who truly had his childhood dream come true.

"My father was stationed at Ft. Bragg and I used to watch the paratroopers," Thibeault said. "I had a dream once that I was an infantryman in the desert somewhere and got shot and a medic behind me in the dream was taking care of our wounded. When I woke up from that dream I was drenched in sweat and I realized that I was going to become a paratrooper medic."

And he did. Thibeault did tours from Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom and says the horrors of war always followed him home.

"It stems back to the first Gulf War that I fought in when I was a teenager. I came home in '91 and I would start having fits of rage and flashbacks."

Thibeault says he drank his issues away until one of his final days of nursing school at a VA Hospital.

"I had to sit in with a bunch of older WW2 vets - not as a vet myself, but as a student - and they were telling the counselor about their PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and I was almost in tears."

Amy Tobias, director of Education for Mental Health America of Greater Indianapolis, says PTSD can happen immediately, or years down the road.

"There is that stigma out there, but actually it takes a lot of bravery to come forward," Tobias said.

Mental Health America has a 24-hour hotline, and Tobias says 122 veterans have called for help this year.

They expect that number could soar with the surge of troops returning home.

If you know a service member or are one, watch for signs such as anger, irritability, sleeplessness, avoiding people and nightmares.

"Some of the other symptoms include hyper vigilance, where the person might always be in a fearful situation and always be on alert looking for what's coming next," said Tobias.

If you're around someone who has just returned from war, Thibeault suggest not asking about combat specifics.

"Some people equate combat with one of these fancy video games you can play with the controllers and there's no consequences to your actions, but real life sadly is a lot different than that."

And he says if you don't know what to say, simply say "welcome home" and give them a hug.

The number for the Mental Health America 24-hour hotline for service members and their family and friends is 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health America of Greater Indianapolis