Seasoned vet winning the battle against PTSD

By Dave Mattera

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Sgt. Thomas DeVietro, 25, gets his picture taken in Afghanistan, a military requirement while stationed in a new country. Photo courtesy of Thomas DeVietro

DeVietro’s interest in the military came after he witnessed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“I was a sophomore at Upper Darby [high school] in my second period Spanish class and remember hearing the news,” DeVietro said. “I acted like I needed to use the bathroom because I was in shock. I saw my best friend, Kevin in the hallway and told him that we were going to war.” From that moment, he said he wanted to fight for his country, and had no plan to attend college.

So during his senior year, DeVietro walked into an Army recruiting office and enlisted.

“I was able to sign up on my own because I turned 18 in December, so I didn’t need my parents,” he said. “And, I didn’t tell anybody I was going.”

After DeVietro graduated high school in 2003, he went to basic training, and was later stationed in Germany with the 501st Military Police Unit where he became a combat field medic.

DeVietro transferred to Iraq when the U.S. invasion took place in 2003.

“During the time of the invasion, military police were doing things that they normally wouldn’t do, like kicking in doors and driving in [combat vehicles],” DeVietro said. “It was pretty intense because I was 18 and it was all new to me.”

He remembers feeling lost, so he purchased calling cards to call his mother and friends for comfort.

At 21, stationed in Baghdad, DeVietro remembers being a part of history when he became a member of the Inner Cordon Security Team, who guarded Saddam Hussein, after Hussein was captured by U.S. forces and awaited trial.

DeVietro recalled his time guarding Hussein’s cell.

“We weren’t allowed to talk to him, we were just there to guard him,” he said. “He looked like an old crusty defeated man.”

After DeVietro’s term in Iraq, he re-enlisted in the Army where he was later promoted to sergeant at 22.

Since then, DeVietro served on several combat deployments, and had traveled to Honduras, Belize, Cuba, Suriname, and Puerto Rico.

Later in DeVietro’s military career, he was approached by his superior about joining the Special Operations Unit, the 75th Ranger Regiment, for the record times he achieved on his fitness test scores.

DeVietro, 25, enrolled in the Army Ranger program which he completed within one year and graduated with honors.

He received devastating news close to his graduation; he found out his mother had suddenly died.

“I talked to her that same day about coming home for Christmas break,” he said. “She was telling me about all the food she was going to make.”

DeVietro, saddened by the news, finished cleaning his weapons and waited for confirmation from the Red Cross.

“I felt like a truck hit me,” he said. “My world turned really, really dark.”

After going home to bury his mother, DeVietro served in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment until he retired.

“I decided to leave the military, and I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back to civilian life,” he said. “I felt like I was 18 starting all over again.”

Like many veterans, DeVietro had also developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder which can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a violent assault or the death of a loved one.

According to a study conducted by the APA, PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S., and estimates 8.7 percent have a chance of developing the condition in their lifetime.

According to The National Center for PTSD, which dedicates itself to providing resources for PTSD patients and their families, six out of every 10 men and five out of every 10 women experience one traumatic event within their lifetime.

The NCPTSD also says since there is a possibility PTSD can progress over time, not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop the condition; it depends on how long the persons’ reactions last.

“After a trauma or lifethreatening event, it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories of the event,” the NCPTSD website states. “If these reactions do not go away or if they get worse, you may have PTSD.”

People who suffer with PTSD can experience symptoms ranging from sleep deprivation, and being easily startled, to having flashbacks. Detachment and displacement from civilian life is common in soldiers diagnosed with the condition, experts add.

Besides all the possible mental symptoms a PTSD sufferer faces, physical symptoms also can occur, including increased blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension, nausea, joint pain, headaches, back pain or other types of pain,” writes Dr. Spencer Eth, a psychiatrist with the Miami Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.

Eth explains how many people with PTSD do not make the connection between their physical pain and the trauma they experienced, and how people already living with chronic pain may intensify their symptoms.

The Department of Veterans Affairs states that soldier based cases of PTSD depend on what war the soldier had fought in. For example, 30 percent of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD, as opposed to 12 percent in the Gulf War, and 11 percent to 20 percent in the Operation Iraqi Freedom War (OIF).

According to the VA, if soldiers with PTSD do not get treated for their condition, they have a greater chance of becoming a substance abuser, or worse, committing suicide.

As of 2014, an average of 20 veterans commit suicide on a daily basis. In fact, veterans account for 18 percent of all suicide related deaths in the U.S.

Several treatment options exist to help soldiers cope with their PTSD. Treatments range from cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which is a 12-session psychotherapy where soldiers learn to evaluate their thoughts and change them, to prolonged exposure therapy (PE) where soldiers talk about the details of their trauma and face their fears.

“The VA has been one of the leaders in developing some really good interventions for PTSD,” said Marc Henley, a professor of psychology at DCCC. “Often times, some of the best PTSD treatment is in a group setting with people who experience something similar to one another.”

Henley adds how veterans interacting with other veterans, creates a sense of safety and support.

As for DeVietro, he says his PTSD will not limit him from following his dreams. His passion for fitness keeps him moving towards his life goals.

After the military, he started training people at a local park which led to DeVietro opening up his own gym.

“Surrounding myself with positive people and helping them get into shape, helps me with my condition,” DeVietro said. “It’s a release for me.”

He also started his own personal training program, “Thomas DeVietro Strength and Conditioning.”

He sold his original gym and is in the process of opening another one in Media.

Besides fitness, DeVietro said he has an interest in the arts. He is enrolled at DCCC as a drama major.

“I joined acting…that was another outlet I used along with fitness,” he said.

DeVietro will have a part in the upcoming November play, “Middletown.”

Contact Dave Mattera at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu