WINTHROP – Overlooking Boston Harbor with the nighttime sparkling Boston skyline in the distance it is hard to imagine the lasting impact of war, military service or any trauma for that matter.
Tuesday night the Cottage Park Yacht Club’s own book club met with author EJ Hanagan (also known as Winthrop resident Kate Anslinger) and Winthrop’s Veteran’s Services Director Roseann Trionfi-Mazzuchelli to talk about post traumatic stress syndrome.
Hanagan has written, “Saving Jason,” a fictionalized account of her ex-husband’s battle with PTSD. They were married young. Jason was a fun-loving free spirit before he joined the service. Once he was deployed to Iraq and returned he was a different person, Hanagan said. He began to self medicate and got a medical discharge from the Marines. Several years later he suffered brain damage after a skateboarding accident. Then after he moved south he was in another accident where he was burned and the son of his fiancé was killed.
“The effects on the victim’s family and friends go deep,” Hanagan said. “My ex-husband still can’t see his two kids because of anger issues.”
Hanagan herself spent four years in the Air Force and Mazzuchelli spent 20 years in the Army. As veteran’s services director she knows of 75-100 Winthrop veterans who battle PTSD.
Mazzuchelli said PTSD is not just for veterans. Anyone who has witnessed or lived through a traumatic event may suffer from PTSD. For the veterans she sees she has two places to refer them to. Anyone who served from World War II and up usually is referred to the state’s Veteran’s Center. Anyone who served after Sept. 11 is often referred to the Homebase Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Problems with PTSD can be masked by at-risk behavior, drinking, drugs, shutting down or becoming a party animal.
“The suicide rate is high for veterans. This is not going to go away,” Mazzuchelli said. She recalled how she and her fellow soldiers dealt with stress, like after the first time she saw a dead person in a traffic accident. They drank. It was frowned upon to talk about what they had seen. She added that in her specialty as a military police officer they had their own way of dealing with PTSD.
“Don’t bring it to the top,” Mazzuchelli said. Another support system for those with PTSD is the National Center for PTSD which has resources for veterans, their families and friends. There is also information for professionals. Mazzuchelli added that you don’t have to be a veteran to have PTSD. Any traumatic event – accident, rape, anyone who was in NYC on Sept. 11, etc. can trigger PTSD.
“People are starting to come out and talk about this,” Mazzuchelli said.
“Soldiers and airmen are committed to each other and they don’t want to talk about or admit to PTSD,” said Hanagan. “Your buddies can’t rescue you and there is no direction when you’re released from the military.”
One veteran in Winthrop who is not afraid to talk about PTSD is Dudley Farquhar, a Vietnam vet who served in the Army. He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2011 and has been going to counseling at the VA Hospital.
“My way of dealing with it was to not,” he said, adding that Massachusetts is one of the best states for veterans’ services.
Mazzuchelli said she is in town to help any veteran and she has the resources.
“You have to want to do this. The first step is to recognize there is a problem. I try to get the word out that you’re not alone. There is a huge buddy system,” Mazzuchelli said.