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San Diego VA Studies The Role Of Guilt In PTSD Treatment

Jesus Seineke takes a break in Iraq in 2004.

Credit: Jesus Seineke

Above: Jesus Seineke takes a break in Iraq in 2004.

The San Diego Veterans Affairs Hospital is looking at the role guilt and shame play in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Researchers want to find the best way to treat people who may not think they deserve to get better.

Jesus Seineke dismissed his own injuries when he talked about the time his Stryker vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during an ambush outside of Mosul in August 2004.

No, he said, it was his buddy who was hurt.

“We’re shoulder to shoulder and he takes a round," Seineke said. "Shrapnel or whatever to the face. So like, I injured my back ... but he took a round to the face.”

Skip forward 11 hours that day, and they are still in the firefight. Seineke’s weapon is a .50-caliber machine gun. It can tear through a vehicle. At this point, he is running out of ammunition. Suddenly, a car was barreling toward their position, and he was faced with a choice.

“I opened fire on the vehicle. Took out the engine block and the wheels. Then proceeded to lay waste to the inside of the cab,” he said.

Later he found out who was inside.

"An old man, a young woman and two young children in the back seat," Seineke said. He took a long pause.

You can tell Seineke he was under fire. Or that he didn’t know who was in that car.

“You can hear that from everyone else like I’m hearing that from you. But it’s like deaf. It just doesn’t process the same,” he said.

Years later, all those memories came rushing back, when the county threatened to take custody of his young son. Seineke attempted suicide.

"Those are the types of stories we hear from our patients, in our research, every day," said San Diego VA researcher Sonya Norman.

Video by Katie Schoolov

Norman is the lead researcher for a nationwide study on the treatment of PTSD for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to know the role guilt and shame play in seeking PTSD treatment. It is something Norman has seen since she began treating these vets starting in 2008. Split second decisions can haunt these veterans.

"It can complicate treatment a lot. Partly because sometimes the next thing people tell themselves is 'I did something so bad, and it means I am bad. And it means I don’t deserve to feel better,'" she said.

RELATED: More Vets Who Are Coping With PTSD From Sexual Assaults Get Honorable Discharges

The study will look at the range of treatments offered by the VA to see which ones work best, as well as which treatments the VA may consider rolling out nationwide. San Diego veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are encouraged to join the study.

Over time, Seineke said, he’s been able to get his own guilt under control. He was able to win back custody of his son, who is going into middle school. And Seineke now has a daughter. He now counsels other veterans who are struggling to deal with that one terrible moment that changed their lives forever.

San Diego VA Studies The Role Of Guilt In PTSD Treatment

GUEST:

Steve Walsh, military reporter, KPBS News

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