Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Momism: Television Stressors at the VA

The other day, a support group friend in FOV stated concerns about televisions in VA hospitals showing traumatic situations. She most definitely was sympathetic about the shootings that happened in Connecticut but, just as I and so many are dealing with, she also had a loved one with PTSD who served in combat and she was understandably concerned about a possible stressor trigger occurring.

Remember the days following September 11? I don't even have to post a year, the date alone brings it back, right? Our children watched the attacks over and over in their classrooms just as it played again and again in homes across the nation. It was reported a few weeks later that seeing repeated coverage could bring on PTSD. I understand this.

I have also heard that jurors can deal with PTSD when hearing cases involving attacks on children, especially when photos are presented as evidence. I understand this.

If a television is on in a waiting room, why can't it be on a game show or a sitcom? Why must a veteran sit and watch something that can trigger a stressor. The irony is a lot of veterans are waiting to be seen or have a checkup for exactly what we are given lists to keep aware of as triggers and yet, the only thing ever on is news about the war or shootings or anger issues involving politics and/or religion.

Several years ago when my older son was in Iraq, my sister and I were at the Air Force base I used to live on getting some of my college transcripts. My younger son was a few hundred feet away getting prepped for a dental procedure following a sporting event accident. On the TV was, quite naturally, a 24-hour news channel that often had footage regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. At that moment, I had one of those “mommy” feelings and wanted to get back to the dental office at the hospital just across the street. My sister immediately thought it was me worrying about my older son after seeing the footage and I could have quite possibly assumed that as well but no, my mother's instinct kept telling me I specifically needed to get back to my younger son. We ran up just as it the hospital was being evacuated because of a fire in the basement. My son was on a gurney because he was under anesthesia for the dental procedure he was about to have.

I could have just assumed it was anxiety over the news. In fact, today, I can't watch war movies and unfortunately found out about a month ago that I can't even watch old reruns of MASH and I was a parent who stayed home and wasn't in combat. These movies and MASH are wonderful shows and I have absolutely nothing but good things to say about them but they can't help the emotions they bring up in me. So if it can affect me so emotionally, how can I not understand the triggers it could pull on a veteran?

I cried so much Friday. I prayed. I thought about 9/11. I thought about Oklahoma and Timothy McVeigh. I thought about my younger son's high school getting a call that thankfully turned out to be a prank a few years ago. We see the news and tragedies all day long and yes, we should stay informed...to a point. But what we need to consider in our situations as veterans and family members of veterans who are dealing with PTSD and maybe a TBI, is that we don't need to have them sitting in waiting rooms watching trauma. Suppose a trigger happens and they walk out because they can't deal with watching it? Then they get seen as failing to appear for an appointment. What if they get agitated and say something because of the PTSD and well, come on, the emotions and pain and anger we all feel hearing about these tragedies? Then perhaps security is called because they are “causing a scene”. Yes, this could be a possibility. Yet the trigger could simply have been because of a television showing some emotionally painful and traumatic news with a sign boldly placed nearby stating not to touch the TV.

If you feel uncomfortable watching such coverage in VA waiting rooms (or other waiting rooms), then politely and maturely write a letter (as my support group friend suggested) to the head of the center where you go and bring up your concerns and ask if the channels can be turned. If they deal with PTSD in their clinics and hospitals, they should be the first to understand what your concerns are regarding stressors.

As for Sandy Hook, all of us here at FOV will continue to pray and hold you in our thoughts.

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