Thousands of RGV service members being treated for PTSD

Dr. Yasisca Pujols is one of the over 1,600 mental health professionals hired through President Barack Obama's initiative, to help soldiers returning from war.

She said many people still don't understand the severe war conditions these soldiers have had to endure, such as "overhead fire, mortar attacks and IEDs.

About 20 percent of the veterans now returning from war are diagnosed with PTSD, Pujols said, but there are many more who don't meet all the criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder, who still experience many of the symptoms.

"It can keep going decades after the initial traumatic experience, Pujols said. We have veterans that are from the Vietnam-era coming-in for PTSD treatment.

Salvador Castillo, director of the Cameron County Veteran's Office tells Action 4 News, currently there's 19,500 registered veterans, of those, about 5,000 are getting treatment, right now, for PTSD. He adds it's unknown how many more are suffering without the proper treatment.

"A lot of veterans say, ~well I don TMt want to get fired from my job, I hold a job with a law enforcement agency, and if I go and try to get treated for PTSD, they might hold it against me - or I don TMt want my family to know, TM" Castillo said.

Treating the disorder is a two-level approach, Pujols said.

First, mental health experts work with soldiers on changing the negative view of the world they might have after war .

Next, they help soldiers overcome traumatic experiences with a method called, Prolonged Exposure Therapy - it's like watching a scary movie again and again, "over time, it's not as scary anymore."

But Pujols said one hurdle is that biggest hurdle soldiers in the Valley have to overcome to get the proper treatment is machismo.

"Military culture also says emotions aren't important while on a mission, put those aside or else you risk your life, Pujols said. So we're trying to combat that mentality as well as machismo " (the attitude of) I don't need to talk to anybody about my problems - that cultural divide versus getting help."

If you are a Veteran in crisis, please call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or call the local Harlingen VA clinic at 956-291-9000.