W. MI veteran: PTSD prevents me from wearing mask

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan veteran has resorted to wearing a message in public explaining his combat service after experiencing ridicule for not wearing a mask.

The veteran, who asked to not be identified, wrote to News 8 over the weekend.

“…I am a Marine Corps veteran that served in the initial wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Without going into extensive detail here, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD from my time served in an imminent danger zone,” his email read in part. “Because of what I’ve experienced, I am unable to wear a mask without experiencing reoccurring flashbacks to wearing a gas mask with ordnance exploding around me. Due to the recent events of requiring people to wear masks, again which I support, I have had a flood of unpleasant memories come back that I prefer not to deal with.”

He went on to explain people do not understand why he can’t wear a mask.

“I face dirty looks, unnecessary vitriol and potential refusal to enter certain locations from the lack of understanding that medical reasons are clearly called out as an exception in Gov. Whitmer’s executive order. My life has become exponentially more difficult,” the veteran’s email added.

As a result, he created a name tag that he now wears in public and shared a photo of it with News 8. 

He also tries to call ahead to places to explain his background in order to prevent being approached by an employee or asked to leave a store.

“It would mean so much to me, and I’m sure many others like me hiding in the shadows, if you would be able to bring to light that there are those of us out there that have been placed in a very precarious position. If people could be understanding that we actually exist, I’m hoping it will make things much easier,” the note concluded.

“This veteran is doing a great job trying to advocate and educate people about what is going on related to his current situation,” Dr. Jessica Rodriguez, a psychologist specializing in PTSD treatment at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, told News 8 Tuesday. “It’s really important for all of us who are practicing compassion, both compassion for ourself and compassion for others and that we aren’t making assumptions about why someone may or may not be wearing a mask.”

Rodriguez said the VA isn’t necessarily hearing more concerns from veterans related to navigating the pandemic, but they’re focused on maintaining contact and sharing resources because a response could come later.

“It’s often in the aftermath of that where we see some of the more PTSD-specific concerns that come up, as they’re kind of moving past that crisis phase,” she explained. “So that’s when we can see more of those struggles.”

One resource Rodriguez shared can be helpful to the general public, not just veterans. 

UChicago Medicine, NYU Langone Health, and Emory University School of Medicine worked together to publish “Tips for Getting Comfortable in Your Mask” through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

She also recommends those looking for support right now check for resources through the National Center for PTSD

Helpful information is also being updated on the Battle Creek VA’s website.

“There’s really wonderful effective treatment for PTSD that can help, specifically with this concern, because we want all of our nation’s heroes to feel safe, to be safe when they are going out in public,” Rodriguez said.

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