LIMA — Barney Hovest of Pandora last saw his son alive on Easter 2016 while driving him home to Chicago after spending the holiday in Ohio.
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hovest had served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Army Rangers 82nd Airborne from 2002 to 2003 and in 2006. He returned home from his first tour showing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“He was different when he came home after his first tour,” his father said. “We talked on the way home and he actually talked about committing suicide. And I said, ‘You know you can’t do that. That would just kill us all.’ He goes, ‘I know, I just started going to this veterans group and talking.’ I really thought, ‘Finally, he’s talking to somebody at least.’”
On June 5, 2016, Hovest received the call no parent should ever receive. His son had turned his suicidal thoughts into action. After 13 years of dealing with PTSD, Benjamin Hovest wrote letters to each family member, got the military paperwork together his family would need for organizing a funeral, walked behind the place he was living and shot himself in a deserted alley.
“I was shocked because I thought he just sounded like he was different. He’s finally getting some help talking to these other vets,” Hovest said. “I don’t know what happened that day or that night. It’s a phone call I’d rather not ever get again.”
Benjamin Hovest joined the Army in 2001 after 9/11. He was glad to have joined and was ready to serve his county.
Hovest’s story isn’t an isolated incident in the region. According to statistics from the VA.gov website, 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year.
Stephanie Jones’ husband, Justin Jones, of Lima, is a Marine Corps veteran who served with 16 Bravo Company out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and served tours of duty in Garmsir in 2008 and 2009 and Marjah in 2009 and 2010. He came back showing symptoms of PTSD, as did William Hook, formerly of Spencerville, the deceased son of Gregory Hook. Hook served as a U.S. Army communications specialist in Iraq from 2009 to 2010.
William Hook’s wife had organized a homecoming party so friends and loved ones could welcome him back from the war. On the day of the party people were milling around the room laughing, sharing pleasantries but he stood with his back against the wall and didn’t respond when people approached him. William Hook didn’t respond to, or even seem to recognize his own father, until at least 10 minutes passed after his arrival. When he finally realized his father was standing beside him, William Hook broke down weeping.
PTSD is diagnosed by looking for combinations of many symptoms, physical and psychological, induced by traumatic events, including, but not limited to, flashbacks, nightmares related to the traumatic event, racing heart and distress to things symbolizing the event, said Heidi Aust-Cox, Lead Behavioral Access Clinician at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.
“You’re reliving the event,” she said. “It might even feel like it’s occurring again. They can start having difficulty with sleep because of nightmares or reoccurring memories.”
Veterans with PTSD may even show avoidance behavior — avoiding crowds, driving out-of-the-way routes to avoid someone, talking on a cellphone while walking down the sidewalk, and anything else reminding them of threats they faced in combat.
Aust-Cox said many times patients with PTSD start to show signs of reckless behavior because they don’t know how to deal with the symptoms. Veterans with combat-related PTSD might start sleeping with a loaded gun under their pillow, and some people start to show signs of substance abuse, she said.
Gregory Hook said William didn’t drink alcohol or use illegal drugs, but instead began consuming a great deal of cough syrup. He would sit in his room for hours on end drinking cough syrup and playing video games, he said.
In the case of Benjamin Hovest, he showed signs of increased alcohol consumption as his symptoms worsened, his father said.
Alcohol can help people with PTSD quiet the nightmares and memories for a time so they an sleep, said Aust-Cox. If sleeplessness continues, it can make people with PTSD more irritable, she said.
Two mental health related symptoms associated with PTSD that are not actual symptoms of the condition are violence and suicidal thoughts, said Dr. Kristin Rodzinka, PTSD Program Manager at the Dayton Veteran Affairs Medical Center.
Rodzinka said there is discrimination against veterans with PTSD symptoms, especially in the workplace. People think veterans with PTSD are violent and unable to control themselves, she said. The discrimination stems from a lack of understanding of what PTSD is and the media’s misrepresentation of symptoms.
Hovest said one of the reasons Benjamin Hovest was so reluctant to seek treatment for PTSD was because he was interested in getting a job in border patrol. He was concerned if treatment for PTSD was on his record it would disqualify him.
“Violence is not a symptom of PTSD,” she said. “The truth is people with PTSD are no more as likely to be violent then people who don’t have PTSD, unless there are substances involved.”
Aust-Cox said while suicidal thoughts and behavior are not symptoms of PTSD the flashbacks, sleeplessness and other symptoms can cause deepening depression until those self destructive thoughts take over.
“I might argue that suicidality it isn’t a symptom, but it’s a potential solution when people are suffering,” Rodzinka said. “We know that risk factors include things like severe emotional and physical pain. Unfortunately, veterans who have experienced the worst of combat are left suffering with both.”
How to get treatment
Veterans with PTSD who are looking for treatment can start at their county Veterans Service Commission Offices. The main function of those offices is to guide veterans through the process of getting their benefits and getting into VA medical center treatment programs, said Tamara Curtis, executive director and county veterans service officer at the Allen County Veterans Service Commission, located in the Allen County Courthouse.
Curtis said the Allen County office has a VA consular in the office sometimes to talk to veterans showing PTSD symptoms. The Allen County office is also working with the VA to organize group therapy sessions at the office sometime in the future.
The Lima CBOC, a branch of the Dayton VA Medical Center, has a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a licensed clinical social worker who can evaluate people on sight in Lima, said Rodzinka. If veterans have PTSD symptoms or the providers think specialty PTSD treatment they can go through a referral process to the Dayton VA PTSD specialty treatment center.
Veterans who are referred to the treatment program can choose to either go to Dayton for treatment or utilize the telehealth program, where they can connect via the internet to a PTSD specialist at the Dayton VA for treatment from the Lima CBOC or from their homes.
“Veterans in the Lima area, and actually more rural areas, have access to the evidence-based PTSD treatment as veterans here in Dayton,” Rodzinka said.
If veterans are showing more complex and intense issues they may be admitted to the seven week residential care program at the Dayton VA Medical Center. For severe issues, there are residential treatment centers with 90-day programs.
Stephanie Jones said her husband was admitted to one such program in Martinsburg, West Virginia. In 2014, Justin Jones was taken to an emergency room in Dayton because he was showing signs of suicidal ideation, Jones said. He went into two weeks of full lockdown treatment at the VA medical center where they started him on medication and psychotherapy, she said. He then went to the 90-day program in Martinsburg.
“Martinsburg saved his life because he was able to engage in all sorts of different treatments,” Jones said.
Rodzinka said there are two evidence-based treatments for PTSD practiced by the VA: prolonged exposure therapy (PTE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT). With PTE a mental health professional will safely encourage a veteran with PTSD to face the things that trigger them, setting off anxiety and flashbacks. If the veteran has a problem with crowds, the professional will encourage them to go to a location or event with varying sizes of crowds in hopes eventually they will become desensitized to crowds. The same technique would be used to treat someone with aquaphobia, in a safe environment gradually nudging them toward a body of water until they realize there’s nothing to fear.
CPT is used to guide veterans away from disruptive and destructive thinking. In war, soldiers have to do and see traumatic things they may blame themselves for, Rodzinka said. It’s the same kind of thinking a rape victim develops where they start looking for reasons to blame themselves rather than their attacker, she said.
Treatment isn’t a one-sided effort, however. It only works if the veteran actively participates.
“Our goal is to get people back into their life,” Rodzinka said. “A lot of people suffering with PTSD really feel like they aren’t living anymore and that’s not okay.”
How can we help?
The three area families have found help comes in many ways.
Barney Hovest pointed out parents and other family members are in a special situation.
“You know them. Look for what is different about them,” Hovest said. “And don’t be afraid to get them to talk about it. I was worried about Ben getting mad at me if I asked too much.”
He said friends and family should also encourage the veterans they know with PTSD to seek help. Hovest also shares his son’s story in an effort to raise awareness of PTSD.
William Hook died from medical complications May 10, 2013, when he was 26 years old, his father said. For a few years, Gregory Hook lost his faith in God and went to a very dark place, he said. Now he is riding a recumbent trike around the U.S. speaking about PTSD at Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and to people he meets randomly along the way. His goal is to raise awareness about PTSD and funding for the Christian Warriors Retreat, which is held for veterans of all ages a few times a year, he said.
Justin Jones doesn’t just have PTSD. He also sustained a traumatic brain injury after being caught in an improvised explosive device explosion while fighting in Afghanistan. The same injury caused him to develop a rare spinal disease, Syringomyelia, which left him crippled. Stephanie Jones has dedicated herself to taking care of him by becoming a certified VA caregiver.
“You always have that hope for the person you knew before,” she said. “You know they’re in there. Regardless of what trauma he goes through or what you may go through, you don’t ever want to give up.”
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