Veteran sought help for PTSD on a dare

(Featured image is of Veleka Douglas)

The fourth of July brings lots of cookouts with family and friends topped off with backyard fireworks’ displays.

For many years, Veleka Douglas dreaded those celebrations of pyrotechnics.

“That was hard for me,” said Douglas, who spent 25 years in the Army Reserves as well as active duty and was deployed to Iraq. “We took gunfire a lot. There were people shooting at us we couldn’t see.”

The sounds of fireworks would bring back those memories along with the fear of being under attack and the pain of losing members of her military family.

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Douglas coped with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the best she knew how.

 “I slept a lot,” she said.

As soon as she came home from work, she’d go to sleep and not wake up again until it was time to go to work the next day. She didn’t go out with friends, and she had a lot of unexplained aches and pains in her body.

Douglas didn’t even realize she had PTSD until a friend — another veteran who was undergoing therapy for her own PTSD — said something that changed Douglas’ life.

“I had a friend who dared me to go get help – literally a dare,” she said.

Of course, she couldn’t turn down a dare and she eventually found help through the Augusta VA Hospital’s telehealth services.

 “Therapy can reduce the frequency, intensity and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder and maybe help them back to the way they were pre-trauma,” said Dr. J. Richard “Ric” Monroe, a clinical psychologist and program manager of the Augusta VA’s Trauma Recovery Center.


Mental health is a priority for today’s veterans, Monroe said. Earlier veterans might’ve had to deal with “shell shock” or “combat fatigue” (as they once called PTSD) all their lives, but there are proven treatments that can control and manage it. A VA website offers more information.

And it’s not something that someone can treat alone.

 “People want to handle problems on their own and try the best they can, but post-traumatic stress disorder probably isn’t a disorder one can treat on their own. It does require intervention,” he said.

He compares mental well-being to physical health.

“If we broke our leg, we shouldn’t be the one to try and set the bone,” he said. “When a problem is severe enough, it requires professional treatment.”

Douglas accepted the dare, and when checking off her symptoms, she discovered the truth. She had PTSD, and her road to healing was often painful.

“Sometimes, therapy can trigger emotions you may have been holding back. Once I got unlocked, I found myself crying (more),” said Douglas. “I felt like I was so weak, but my doctor said ‘you’re getting stronger; you’re dealing with the emotions.”

 Also, the undealt with emotions caused pain in her body – so much pain that she had to do some pain management treatment.

Douglas doesn’t consider herself completely healed, but she feels she’s better equipped to deal with the memories that once brought the pain. And she’s not ashamed to tell others she reached out for help.

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According to Monroe, treatment at the VA doesn’t just include talk therapy. Veterans have to do their homework.

“We have to interrupt the cycle,” Monroe said. “It’s an exhausting disorder. People think they need years and years of therapy, but that’s not true – three to four months of once a week, hitting it aggressively, and things can change really fast.”

Avoidance is one way people try to deal with PTSD, he said, but if avoiding the problem worked, then it would get fixed on its own.  People avoid the situations that make them think about the trauma.

Douglas is still a little nervous about being in crowds; that’s a situation where she can’t keep her eyes on everyone.

 Veterans might be nervous about going to a movie and need to sit in a strategic spot where they can see all the exits and not have anyone walk behind them.

“It might’ve made sense in a combat zone. Now it’s causing problems,” he said. “A bottleneck being stuck in traffic in a combat zone and you’re a target. On 20, it’s just a nuisance.”

Some veterans turn to substances to help them avoid dealing with the pain, and others end up committing suicide.

Although Douglas was hesitant to seek initial treatment, she’s glad she did and tells everyone how much it’s helped her. Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health is important to her as well.

“I’ve lost too many friends to suicide,” she said. “PTSD is real. A lot of us deal with it.”

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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