23 Feb 2016
February 23, 2016

Pam Saulsby: When a parent has PTSD

Heroes cry. They bend and shake. They break down.

If the numbers from a recent RAND study are right, then about 300,000 returned troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are mentally broken. They are battling post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last week I spoke with a veteran’s son about war and pain.

Pam Saulsby

Pam Saulsby

Liam McGrady is 11 years old and lives in Cary. He can tell you a thing or two about PTSD because it hit his dad. Shawn McGrady served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps.

Liam told me he knew something was different about his dad after the war. He didn’t know there was a name for it. When Liam was 6 he noticed his father seemed sad a lot. One time Liam caught him crying. He told me he was worried but didn’t think it was his place to ask questions about what was wrong.

That changed over time. Liam remembers watching a television documentary about PTSD and combat veterans. He wondered if his dad had PTSD. He asked him point blank and was told the truth. Liam’s father and No. 1 hero admitted to son that he has PTSD.
Liam learned that his father had trouble feeling safe even though he was in a peaceful place surrounded by his family. His dad had to fight to keep his guard down at home because his mind kept returning to the battles and enemy fighters with guns in Afghanistan who were trying to kill him. There were many father/son talks about PTSD to come.

Liam saw over time how his father adjusted to civilian life, but he also explained to me that every once in a while, it catches his dad again. That’s the nature of the beast that’s bested many war heroes.
One of my uncles suffered a mental breakdown during combat. He was an Army captain during the Vietnam War. Uncle Johnny was married with a young son at the time. I was coming of age at that time and had trouble processing what was happening before my eyes. Combat and casualties bombarded the airwaves; the war was the lead story on the TV news night after night.

I was a bit like Liam. I didn’t know what to ask, and I was too timid back then to say anything even if I did.

Those are reasons I had to write “Ashley’s High Five For Daddy.” It’s a children’s book on PTSD and military kids. The book will be published this year. In it, I introduce the reader to the process military families experience on the return of their loved one from deployment. My desire is to offer a small tool that can open a clear channel of communication between military parents and their young children.

I knew also that in writing this book it would help me settle some things in my own troubled mind. Vietnam left a mark. I don’t expect to ever wash or erase it away. The admission is a milestone and has been truly therapeutic. The U.S. Army’s office of Public Affairs in New York agreed to help me with this writing project three years ago. It assigned a child psychiatrist to assist me. His name is John Lesica. Dr. Lesica works at the Army-run military hospital that is located on Fort Bragg near Fayetteville.

He made sure my story was age appropriate. He reviewed and approved the final manuscript. Lesica says it captures the resiliency of our military children and families.

Here’s the thing: Our soldiers have endured enormous sacrifices for our safety. The truth is our military families have quietly endured long hours and multiple deployments of their loved ones to dangerous places. Silence is not a treatment when it comes to PTSD. Liam told me I could call him as a witness if anybody questions the extent to which a child knows when his or her parent has PTSD. I don’t think I’ll need to do that, do you?

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