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The Impact of PTSD on Military Families (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 11/11/2010

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A panel of guests discusses what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is, how it impacts individuals and families, and where they can turn for help. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Welcome to a special Veterans' Day edition of "Focus on the Family." Last time we heard a gripping discussion with some guests who have experience with combat PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including Major Robert Nuttall.


Robert Nuttall: So, for me, I just went back in my foxhole and I pushed the world out. And I didn't want to let anybody in, not even my wife or family, because what I was going through. I was in the pit, if we want to use what David calls it. It was about as low as you can go.

End of Recap

John: Well, like Major Nuttall, roughly one in five soldiers are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and we'll learn more about that today. Parents, please note that because of the graphic nature of war and its effects, we're not recommending this broadcast for younger children. Author and Focus president Jim Daly is our host and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Well, John, this is a tough subject and it'd be easy to become discouraged when talking about so much heartache that's associated with the trauma that our combat troops have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan and certainly, in past wars like Vietnam.

There are hundreds of thousands of combat veterans who've been diagnosed with PTSD. And as it was described in the last program, PTSD is a normal response to abnormal situations. And certainly, there are many thousands who have not been diagnosed and that grieves my heart.

This is a huge issue and these men and women have sacrificed so much for us and they need our help and their families need our help, too. And so, for those reasons, we wanted to dedicate these two days around Veterans' Day here to lift this issue up in front of our listeners, so that they could better understand the issue of PTSD.

John: Well, certainly, we are appreciative to the troops and their families for all of their service to us. Now returning with us is Major General Bob Dees. He's retired after a long and very distinguished career with the Army. He's a very highly decorated soldier and since 2005, he's been pouring his life into giving back to those in the Armed Forces. He travels all across the country, educating people in and out of the military about this topic.

Also joining us, Dr. LuAnn Callaway and she holds a Ph.D. in psychology and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling. She's been counseling for 30 years and for the past 20, has been working with victims of PTSD.


Jim: And John, we also have the Nuttalls here with us, Robert and Amy. Robert had a medical retirement from the Army Reserves as a Major. He was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in Iraq. He and his wife, Amy have four children and they live in Texas.

Robert and Amy, last time you were telling us about a car accident that you had in Houston, two months after you returned from duty in Iraq. You were hit by a drunk driver at about 100 miles an hour, if I recall. Robert, you were just about to share with us something of significance. What happened to you spiritually through all of this? And where was God in this? And really, the question many of us have, were you a Christian at the time?

Robert: Well, the biggest decision I made in my life is, as my unit was getting Patriot missiles shot at us from Saddam Hussein and we had already been attacked twice, I made a decision before the war started that I needed to get right with the Lord and I was baptized days before the war started, going into Iraq. So, I would not know the significance of that decision really until sometime later. It did have a very positive effect, the way that I led troops in combat.

But coming home and dealing with all of this depression and post-traumatic stress, the accident happened. It just drove me farther into the pit and then, I began to see that glimmer of hope, that God was gonna pull me out of the pit.

Jim: What was that?

Robert: Well, I was relatively a young man. I was 34-years-old. My wife had said, "You need to go get help at the VA." I found a wonderful doctor at the VA, a Christian doctor. And he began to help me and it was divinely inspired, God's providence. I ran into General Dees and his ministry and that began a season of healing in my life. And I was discerning what to do with the rest of my life. And God says, "Quit prayin'. I got your answer right here. Serve Me."

So, I went to the VA and I said, "I believe God is callin' me to seminary." And the VA says, "Robert, you've had serious brain damage. You've had to relearn how to talk. You had to relearn how to think. You have memory issues. You have cognitive issues, processing issues. These medical doctors and Ph.D.s say that you cannot be successful--

John: Hm.

Robert: --in school. And I said, "Well, are you gonna let me go or not?" And I graduated from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University--

John: Hm.

Robert: --with honors and just to add the little maraschino cherry on top, I also won the preaching award. (Laughter)

Jim: That is outstanding. Robert, congratulations. Amy, you had to be thrilled to see Robert's recovery after looking back on that accident.

Amy Nuttall: Absolutely. We've had a wonderful success story in our family, in our life, but it took a lot of work and it still takes a lot of work every day.

Robert: Uh-hm.

Amy: And so, I don't want people to think that you have PTSD and then it just miraculously is healed. It's something that you will deal with and your family has to learn how to deal with it.

John: It's not all behind you, is it?

Amy: Right. I mean, we still deal with it every day.

Jim: Hm.

Amy: So ...

Jim: But it's something you have to learn to manage.

Amy: Absolutely, you have to learn to manage it.

Jim: General Dees, Robert just gave you an awful lot of--

Bob Dees: Oh, wow.

Jim: --credit there.

Bob: That's ... wow.

Jim: And that's a wonderful thing.

Bob: We praise God for that, but it's all credit to the Lord, because every day we see stories of tragedy, but every day we also see stories of triumph. And Robert and Amy are a story of triumph through help, hope and healing in the person of Jesus Christ. You know, it talks about how God saves those who are broken in spirit.

Jim: Uh-hm.

Bob: And He has certainly done that in their lives. And then, I just attest to seeing the effectiveness now of the Nuttalls nationwide. And they just do a wonderful job, helping people understand that this is prevalent across our nation and that through Jesus Christ, they can return to normal living and they can make a valuable contribution in the lives of many others that need to know about these issues and the solutions.

Jim: And it's a wonderful outreach, a wonderful outreach. Amy, there are moms hearing us that want to ask this question I believe: What about you? What about you spiritually? Where did the Lord grab your heart in all this process? I mean, you're the mom, tryin' to hold this all together. Here you have your daughter with a broken neck from the accident. Your husband's lost the back of his head. What is going through your mind and your heart?

Amy: Well, as I said previously, I really think God was with us that day. And I think things happen in your life for a reason. And I grew up knowing who God was, but I would say that I didn't necessarily have a relationship. And since the accident, things have really changed in our life. We actually had moved to a new house just a couple days before the accident.

John: Hm.

Amy: And our neighbor heard about the accident and came over and got the local church in the neighborhood ... they started bringin' us meals as we came home, 'cause it was weeks before we came home from the hospital. And they brought meals for weeks and weeks and weeks. And this church had never met us. And so, I think it was really an testament [sic] to the power that God has to just use regular ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

And these people did nothing. They didn't want to talk to us. They didn't want us to come to their church. They just brought us a meal and gave us blessings.

John: Hm.

Jim: It was really the love expressed--

Amy: Yes.

Jim: --by the people of God towards you that opened your heart up to the need for God and Jesus to be more central in your life, right?

Amy: Absolutely. And I think a lot of people miss that. You know, you don't need any special training. All's you have to do [sic] is love somebody.

Jim: Hm.

Amy: Just go out and show 'em the love that Jesus Christ has showed you and you can move mountains.

John: Hm.

Jim: Amy, that is well said.

Bob: Jim, a brief interdiction on the intersection on this. There are 361,000 churches in America and this church that ministered to Robert and Amy is a wonderful example of how they can make a difference.

Jim: Hm.

Bob: And so, we would seek to light up all the churches in America, that they might find a "Robert and Amy Nuttalls" in their midst and help them recover from these hidden wounds of war.

Jim: Well, when we talk about changing the culture, that is the most effective way to do it, the way that Jesus prescribed--

Bob: Hm.

Jim: --and that is loving your neighbor as yourself.

Bob: Exactly.

Jim: And you certainly experienced that. Dr. Callaway, this type of story is not new to you, as well. Your son also served in the military and you had a very direct experience in this way. Share that with us.

LuAnn Callaway: Sure. When my son went to Afghanistan, since he's our only child and a child saved from abortion, adopted--

John: Hm.

LuAnn: -- our hearts absolutely went with him somewhere in his cargo pocket, I think.

Jim: Oh.

LuAnn: But when he was over in Afghanistan, he called home one time and when he spoke, I could tell something was wrong. I said, "Jacob, what's happened?" And he said, "Mom, we were in a fire fight and we chased the Taliban insurgents into a building. And they were returning fire. We were firing. There was a lot of smoke, a lot of sand, the sand is like powder. It was everywhere. We couldn't see. And Mom, I shot a Taliban insurgent and he had taken a 12-year-old little girl and put her in front of him as a human shield."

Jim: Hm.

LuAnn: He was devastated. And I thought right then, "Okay, counselor, what are you gonna say now? This is your family. This is personal." I said, "Jacob, these are the atrocities of war. I know how you love children and you would never have done this on purpose." He said, "Mom, I had to pick up her body parts."

I knew then that I better get ready, that he may end up with PTSD. And so, I called 22 other counselors. I said, "We've gotta be mobilized. We have 4,000 Georgia troops coming back to this area and they're with the Reserve and they are not gonna be going back to a base. They're gonna go back to flippin' burgers or working, you know, in a school as a teacher. And we need to be ready to present an answer for them if they do come home with PTSD."

So, for 10 weeks, every Saturday, 23 of us had the joy of connecting with General Dees. In fact, he was the first one I called after I hung up from Jacob and he may--

Jim: Uh-hm.

LuAnn: --want to talk to that.

Bob: Well, just briefly, it's different when it's your son.

Jim: Hm.

Bob: And this very experienced counselor, you know, she has a mother's heart. And I said, "You ought to encourage him as a soldier; it's a noble task and he has been looking evil right in the face. And he stands on the line between a light and darkness. And were it not for 19-year-olds like young Jacob, that would be the fate of all young girls around our globe, around our nation." And so, she understood that and she relayed that to him with a mother's heart and then with a counselor's heart.

Jim: Dr. Callaway, boy, that just rips me up to think about what you were facing, what your son was facing. He returned home. Tell us about how that worked out.

LuAnn: Sure.

Jim: How did you work with him?

LuAnn: Sure. The first 30 to 40 days after a soldier redeploys, comes home, there is a honeymoon period. And we didn't see any symptoms and were rejoicing that he wasn't resorting to alcohol. He wasn't driving fast. It just seemed like he'd made it without PTSD.

John: Hm.

LuAnn: At the 41st day, it seemed like a switch was turned in his brain and every symptom of PTSD was seen by my husband and I and--

Jim: Hm.

LuAnn: --including two suicide attempts--

John: Oh.

LuAnn: --which is probably the biggest problem that we see with soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Jim: To help us fill that in, the suicide, what were other things that were occurring that obviously, as a trained counselor [you] understood, but perhaps there's a mom and dad that don't know the symptoms. Fill those out a little bit. What are the things you're looking for?

LuAnn: He did start over drinking. He was drinking a lot and having blackouts. He was walking in his sleep. He was moving cars around outside and he wouldn't remember ever getting up.

John: Hm.

LuAnn: He slept with a sawed-off shotgun in his bed with him.

John: Oh, my.

LuAnn: In fact, soon after he redeployed, he bought four weapons. They just seemed to get bigger; with each purchase it was a larger weapon.

John: Hm.

Jim: And as a counselor, as Robert said before, is that a way of the medicating of oneself, the alcohol and trying to bury those feelings and then trying to protect by buying weapons and other things?

LuAnn: It is. It's a form of self-protection. They're so used to in Afghanistan and in Iraq, always being aware of where there weapon is. And they get home and they're having these nightmares, there're flashbacks. And they want that weapon near them. He said, "Mom, if you come up the stairs, walk really hard and then knock lightly on the door."

John: Hm.

LuAnn: So, not only were we seeing himself destruct with alcohol and driving fast and he wrecked my car around a telephone pole and he discharged his weapon in his room and said that it had fallen off of a table. But he then said, "Mom, I felt the bullet go across my chest." It went through three walls at our house, so it had to be close.

John: Hm.

Jim: Now as a caregiver experiencing this, there's a lot of stress related in that. And you're a trained professional. What do you do? What does a mom and dad do when their 18-, 19-, 20-year-old son comes home?

LuAnn: We absolutely froze. We didn't want to make anything worse, but we didn't know how to make it better either. I tried to counsel him, but you know how that goes with your own children. He didn't want Mom to counsel. So, I made him aware of these other counselors that would be glad to talk with him.

Eventually, his acting out became so severe that he went into a program and he's doing better. We've still got a long ways to go.

Bob: Jim, if I may add for the parents, it's useful to know that there is help available. There's a sense of desperation, but there are resources available. There are people that understand that are available. And so, parents needs [sic] to tap into that.

John: Well, that's right and of course, we do have some guidance and information about some of those resources here at the Focus website. And we'd specifically want to make note of a book called Two Wars, which chronicles the story of an Army Ranger's difficult losses in battle and then the subsequent internal struggles. And we'll provide details about that and some articles and we'll link over to some other faith-based resources. The starting point is . And our guests on today's program are Major General Bob Dees, Dr. LuAnn Callaway and Mr. Robert Nuttall and his wife, Amy.

Jim: Amy, as a wife of a combat veteran, Robert, what did you know about PTSD? Was it something just very vague or no knowledge whatsoever?

Amy: I knew nothing. In fact, I just thought Robert was severely depressed. And I kept telling him, "You are depressed. You're depressed. Snap out of this. Look at all the wonderful things that are happening in our life. You know, we have this new house. We have a new baby." I mean, we had all these things that were happening that were positive and wonderful and he couldn't see it.

And so, if I was talking to other military wives, I would say, if you see something wrong, then there's something wrong, because you are gonna be the person most connected to that soldier. From the outside, I think a lot of the family didn't realize all the problems that were happening internally. Um ... but if you're a wife and you see something's wrong, go and get help or at least, do some research. I mean, like General Dees has said, there's so many outlets out there.

Jim: Robert, in many ways, as we sit around the table here, you're the son who represents Dr. Callaway's--

LuAnn: Yes.

Jim: --son. You went through it. Describe again, just describe for us that pit. You know, all of the folks around you, when I hear Amy talking, they want to help. They don't know what to do. They see you crying in your backyard as you're digging a hole for a palm tree and it's hard to understand. Help us better understand that war within your own heart and mind.

Robert: You know, the war just doesn't stop when you get off that airplane comin' home. Your friends, you know, that you lost, they flash before you. You're still losin' friends. You're still losin' friends today. You're not even in Iraq. You know, I wish I could go back, but then again, I hated it over there. You know, I wish ...

Jim: Why would you wish to go back? Explain that.

Robert: Because I was a good leader. I was a good leader to soldiers. If I was over there, maybe more of 'em would come home. So, there's a part of me that ... and then, there's a part of me that says, "Well, what was so special about me that I got to go home?" Many people didn't. We still got [sic] many flag-draped coffins bein' flown back home--

John: Hm.

Robert: -- into our communities all over this country. Why me? Why did I live?

John: Is there guilt associated there with that?

Robert: There is; there is survivor's guilt--

John: Hm.

Robert: --you know. And then, I want to go back over there. Then I don't want to put my family through that. Do you see the tension? It's a battle within a battle, even within myself. And then, you go to sleep and then the war starts again. You start hearin' the bullets and the smells, the flesh; you smell it.

John: Hm.

Robert: You're walkin' down the mall and all of a sudden, there's a pop. And you're on the ground and people are laughin' at you. And you know and you kinda brush yourself off like, you know, there's no way to be cool after that. I mean, but nobody knows why you hit that ground, you know, the pain.

That was a sniper that I just heard, you know, walking through the mall. There's just so much pain, you just want to shut everything out. You want to shut your friends out. You don't want to watch TV. You don't want to read the newspaper. But it's all around you.

Jim: Robert, in your relationship with Christ, so often people will say, you know, Christianity's a crutch. But it's our salvation, isn't it? Talk very specifically about how Christ has helped you through this dark period of your life.

Robert: I go back to the book of Joshua. When Joshua was about ready to enter the Promised Land, God knew his heart. And He said, "Joshua, I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I will be with you through this." This is what God said to me in the war. He goes, "You're gonna need me."

John: Hm.

Robert: "But I'm gonna get you through this." And when I was fighting this war at home, I felt the same verse, Joshua 1:9. You know, "Be strong and courageous; don't be terrified or discouraged, for I will be with you wherever you go." It was that encouragement to fight the good fight. You know, the horse is made ready for the day of the battle, but victory rests with the Lord.

And it's a fight that we fight and I'll fight it, I imagine you know, till the day I go to my glory, you know, I'll still have this issue with me, because it doesn't leave. Last week, I had two soldiers call me, dealing with post-traumatic stress. And I [was] talkin' to 'em for over an hour apiece. It just doesn't go away. And it's helpful to me that I know that I'm helping other people.

LuAnn: Uh-hm.

Robert: I feel like I'm blessed right now to be a blessing to others--

Jim: Well, you certainly have--

Robert: --who are dealing with this.

Jim: --you certainly have a sense of peace about you, given everything you've gone through.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And that comes through even here at the table.

Robert: Well, I just praise God that I'm here.

Jim: Yeah.

Robert: It's a miracle in and of itself.

Jim: Well ...

Bob: Jim, with Robert and with so many others, that verse out of 2 Corinthians is so relevant. It says, "Comforting others with that with which I've been comforted." And we're finding that a lot of these post-traumatic stress sufferers come to their place of healing totally, after they recognize they were able to help others.

Jim: And General Dees, your motivation for this, obviously you're retired military, but what tapped your heart to say, "I want to do something beyond the service I've already given this country, to help young men and women and their families like Robert and Amy?

Bob: Well, Jim, these are the (Choking with Emotion) sons and daughters of America--

Jim: Yeah.

Bob: --who are going into harm's way on our behalf. And at this time of the year around Veterans' Day, we have to love them. We have to support them in every way possible. We have to affirm their efforts. You know, where would we be without our veterans of past, present and prayerfully, of the future? Where would we be? We would not be the land of the free and the home of the brave. They do noble things on behalf of the innocent and the underprivileged around the world. So, we need to support them. That's why I'm in it, to support the sons and daughters of America. And as I led them for over 30 years in the U.S. Army, I just saw their noble sacrifices, their selfless service.

Jim and John: Hm.

John: Dr. Callaway, I'm not sure we've heard how your son's doing now. And then, I'd also ask just from your professional experience and your personal experience, talk to those parents, those spouses, those caregivers for these returning veterans who are looking at PTSD and dealing with it on a daily basis.

LuAnn: It's often the case that family members, direct family members--wives, moms and dads--40 percent of our soldiers are coming back and living at home with Mom and Dad. And they often suffer with secondary post-traumatic stress disorder. It's just, things are out of order.

And it's very difficult for a family, even as a counselor, it's been very difficult to understand and be there and keep things low key, because anything that happens in the house, like Robert was describing, they have an exaggerated startle response.

John: Hm.

LuAnn: They jump at everything. One of the most difficult things is, that our soldiers come home with intense anger, just fury. It's just white rage. And so, when you're a mom or a wife, you just want to provide a soft place for them to fall and that they don't have to be angry at you.

And you asked about my son. He is doing better. He's not drinking like he was and he's slowed down significantly.

John: Hm.

LuAnn: He's in a program and he's getting counsel, so it's going to be okay. It's not gonna be easy.

John: Hm.

Jim: And his faith is certainly a part of that, as well.

LuAnn: He has reconnected with his faith and believes that now, that God's not mad at him and um ... that God loves him and that's half the battle.

John: Hm.

LuAnn: You oftentimes just look them in the eye and say, "I love you and God loves you. And no, you're not covered with blood. I can touch you. I can hug you. You're fine and you're going to be fine."

Jim: I could just hear that. I mean, I'm teared up thinking about that father again that's struggling with his son, but how important it is for that father to express love--

LuAnn: Absolutely.

Jim: --to that son.

LuAnn: It's the healing.

Jim: Yeah.

LuAnn: And for God to express love to them, that's the ultimate healing.

Jim: ell, that is true. General Dees, what a privilege. Thank you for your work. Thank you for that. And Dr. Callaway, thank you for your heart, for your training, for your son, for his service to this country.

LuAnn: Please do that.

Jim: Robert and Amy, I'm glad you made it through and God's richest blessings to you.

Robert: Thank you.

Amy: Thank you.


John: Well, it has been a rather emotional time in the studio, hearing about the very difficult times that our guests, Robert and Amy have endured. As Jim said, we're so grateful to them and also to Dr. Callaway and General Dees for addressing this very important topic these past couple of days. I hope you've learned a lot more about PTSD and that you'll follow up with us online to get some resources and to be better equipped to help others.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that every day Focus on the Family is providing counseling services to help people cope with traumatic situations, whether it's a soldier who's come back from an assignment or another family crisis. That counsel would not be available from Focus on the Family to a needy individual if it wasn't for your faithful prayer and financial support. Let me invite you to reach out to families in need and to give them a helping hand by donating 20 or 30 or maybe $50 every month so we can assist them with counseling and resources. Become a Friend of the Family when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We'll have a special broadcast about ways that you can show kindness to others, as we once again, offer encouragement to help you and your family thrive.

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More Episode Resources


Bob Dees

View Bio

Maj. General Bob Dees retired from the U.S. Army in 2003 after 31 years of distinguished service. He was an Army Ranger and served in a wide variety of command and staff positions. Dees is currently Associate Vice President for Military Outreach and Director of the Institute for Military Resilience at Liberty University.


Robert Nuttall

View Bio

Retired Maj. Robert Nuttall served in the U.S. Army for three years and then transitioned to the U.S. Army Reserves where he served for nine years. He is a combat veteran of the war in Iraq. Robert and his wife, Amy, have four children and reside in Texas.


LuAnn Callaway

View Bio

LuAnn Callaway holds a Ph.D. in psychology and a master's in marriage and family counseling. For the last 20 years of her three-decade counseling career, she has specialized in counseling trauma victims, including those who struggle specifically with combat trauma. Dr. Callaway and her husband, Sid, have a son who has served in the U.S. Army.