One of the first things I learned about PTSD is how incredibly fast it can consume you. It feels like one day you're skipping along in a calm world and the next day *WHAM*. Your whole world has crumbled, you don't know up from down, you can hardly keep your head up, put one foot in front of the other... much less figure out how in the heck to help your Veteran who is spiraling into a black hole with no bottom in sight.
I've been living in this PTSD world for a while at this point, and truthfully those bad times can still sock me in the stomach. But, I have (thankfully) developed some tried & true emergency plans for those deep, dark times.
If you haven't already made contact with the OIF / OEF Program office at your local VA Medical Center, do it. This isn't a magic pill, but it helps. When you make contact, ask to be assigned a case worker or patient advocate. Keep in regular contact with them. Make sure they know your face. This is your first line of defense when you need an ally within the VA system to get help for your Veteran. They can cut A LOT of red tape.
SECOND (part A) -
If your Vet isn't being seen by Mental Health, you need to start nudging him/her in that direction. I know (from hard earned experience) that this is easier said than done. Most combat vets don't want to admit that they're experiencing a mental health problem. There's still a stigma there (even though there shouldn't be!). Your best bet is to think through and practice what you want to say and then wait to catch your Vet in one of those rare, calm times and talk about it. If that doesn't work, sometimes getting a friend, sibling, former military buddy, etc., can really help. Before you talk to him/her, get in touch with the Mental Health department at your local VA Medical Center or Clinic. Ask what needs to be done in order to make an appointment, how long it takes to get an appointment, etc. The more you are able to convey to your Vet, the more at ease they're going to be with the situation.
SECOND (part B) -
If you have a VA Vet Center (CLICK HERE for more info) anywhere close by, go ahead and get your Veteran involved there. It is typically a much lower stress environment then a VA Medical Center. And they deal only with combat-related mental health issues. If you're already in crisis mode, they'll definitely help you, but it also doesn't hurt to start using this resource to manage PTSD before a full blown crisis.
At the initial appointment with a psychologist / psychiatrist, it's probably a good idea (with your veteran's permission) to go with them. For a while (when things were at their worst) I went to every appointment and still go to 30 - 40% of my husband appointments. My husband and I normally make the deal that I go with him into the room for the first 10 or 15 minutes (of an hour session), then I head out into the lobby so he can talk one-on-one with the counselor. This way, I know what's going on and can express any concerns, etc., about things that have happened, but he's still got plenty of time to freely talk.
Get help for yourself. Getting help for your spouse without taking care of you is not going to improve what's going on inside your household. PTSD poisons everyone in the house. It changes how you think, feel, and see the world. You react to your spouse differently. You treat your children differently. You look at yourself differently. If you're going to get through this (and do it well), you've got to find a way to get yourself healthy.
One good option for this is Give An Hour (CLICK HERE to visit their website). They're a non-profit that offers free counseling to military, veterans, and family members around the US through a network of providers who have donated their time. They have a search function on their website so you can search for counselors near you. They also have counselors available by phone, if there isn't someone available near you. I've used this option and fully recommend it.
Another option is family counseling through the VA Vet Centers. This is NOT individual counseling, but if your Veteran is receiving counseling at a Vet Center, the two of you (and your children, if you like) can attend family counseling together.
There is also a new, VA National Caregiver Support Line (1-855-260-3274: M-F 8am-11pm, Sat 10:30am-6pm). It has licensed clinical social workers available to answer your questions, listen to your concerns and directly link you to the Caregiver Support Coordinator at your local VA Medical Center.
Know that you're not alone. That was the most powerful thing for me, and is for most people going through that deep, dark place. There are hundreds of thousand of other people facing the same challenges that you are. You can do this. You will get through it. AND we will help you!!!
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - a site dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat!