Mar 18, 2013 8:44 PM by Matt Stafford

Local veteran discusses PTSD problems

"I'd die for my country, and in a heartbeat," says George Barnes, an Iraq War veteran who spent the end of his career at Fort Carson before being medically discharged from the Army.

Barnes did nearly die for his country. While in Iraq, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the door of his vehicle. After that incident is when he says that he first started noticing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is something Barnes feels daily.

"Scared, very scared," Barnes describes. "Ashamed; people look at you differently."

"It cost me my career," says Barnes. "The Army didn't know what to do with me."

Now he's afraid it may soon cost him more. Now that Barnes is medically retired, he's in the Department of Veterans Affairs, but he says assistance is barely letting him get by -- bills are piling up and he doesn't feel stable enough to hold a job.

"I don't know where I'm going to be in the next year," says Barnes. "I could be out on the street; i just don't know."

Unfortunately Barnes' story isn't unique. After more than a decade of war, suicides now outpace combat deaths for the Army; that's despite the doubling of their behavioral health staff over the last five years.

The Army just released a report pointing to problems in diagnosing and treating PTSD; things like confusing paperwork, and inconsistent training and guidelines.

Also in the report, Army officials say they've made progress in some aresa, like cutting the length of time it takes to receive a disability evaluation. They've also published a guide about that process.

Dr. Chris Phillips, a clinical psychologist in the Colorado Springs area that works with patients who suffer from PTSD, says he sees several issues with the military's treatment of PTSD. For one, he says that because of the number of people in the government's system they don't have the time to really "dig in" into the issues of each patient. Also, he points to a differing between the clinical diagnosis of PTSD and how it's talked about day-to-day. Dr. Phillips says sometimes PTSD is diagnosed when the patient is just under stress.

The VA and Army are working on joint disability system, allowing each organization to share records. That's expected to be completed by 2017.

The Prisoner of War / Missing in Action Flag flies in front of the VA Medical Center in Denver - where Barnes has spent the last seven weeks in treatment, but he feels like he's missing at home.

"Symptoms are still the same, if not worse, and I still don't have an answer of how I'm going to be taken care of," says Barnes.

He reached out to News 5, hoping something will change.

"My brothers need help, I need help," says Barnes. "The issue is a lot bigger than they think it is; it's only going to get worse."

He wants to stay optimistic, but he's having trouble.

In a couple of weeks Barnes graduates from the VA program he's been utilizing. He says he's frightened because he doesn't know that he's ready to leave. He has filed paperwork to receive more help, but says that was rejected. Barnes says several other veterans he knows in the facility are in the same situation of applying for more help, and not getting it.

News 5 hopes to follow up with Barnes as he transitions home.



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