PHOTO BY GARY ROHMAN VFW PROACTIVE IN BATTLE AGAINST POTENTIAL ‘TSUNAMI OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES’ BY KARI WILLIAMS C arol Bakke knows what veter-ans who have post-traumat-ic stress disorder are going through. She’s been there. An Iraq War veteran, Bakke served from 2010 to 2011 with the 778th trans-portation company with the Army National Guard as a heavy equipment transporter. An explosively formed pro-jectile hit her team on July 18, 2011. When she returned stateside, the dreams and nightmares started — dreams that would cause her to scream in the middle of the night. “Every dream that I was having [was] like someone was trying to kill me, just that same IED going off, and I was just reliving it,” said Bakke, a life member of Post 7356 in Parkville, Mo. She also had nightmares where she was trying to kill others by blowing them up. Her husband, also a veteran, con-vinced her to seek help. “He went through the whole process with me,” said Bakke, who recently accept-ed a position with the St. Paul, Minn., VA as a legal administrative specialist. However, her initial visit with the VA was not a positive one. Bakke said she spoke to a counselor who told her she had anxiety and would be able to “adjust back to society.” “She just didn’t take me serious at all,” said Bakke, who was the sole woman in the convoy when the EFP hit it. About a month later, Bakke went to a different VA hospital and met with a counselor who had also deployed to Iraq. She was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013. “Telling him my experience, some of the things that happened, he knew exactly what I was talking about,” Bakke said. Having that connection helped moti-vate Bakke to pursue a master’s degree in social work because she saw a need for “more mental health providers like him.” She earned her degree from the University of Kansas in 2015 and focused her thesis project on veteran suicide awareness. “I reached out to veterans that I knew, or would follow up with the wives who learned about what I was doing,” Bakke said. “A lot of what they said was, ‘He doesn’t want to go into [the VA] for help,’ and, ‘I don’t know how to get him to go in for help.’” A lot of them also didn’t want to go in because — something almost everyone said — they didn’t get the help they wanted or were turned around or they just had a negative experience with the VA.” A George W. Bush Institute study, ref-erenced by Commander-in-Chief Brian Duffy, surveyed roughly 1,000 post-9/11 veterans and adults in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada between February and March 2016, finding that “eight out of 10 post-9/11 veterans ‘KNOW THE FIVE SIGNS’ 14 • VFW • JANUARY 2017 PERSONALITY CHANGE: SUDDEN OR GRADUAL CHANGES IN THE WAY SOMEONE TYPICALLY BEHAVES. AGITATION: WHEN SOMEONE SEEMS UNCHARACTER-ISTICALLY ANGRY, ANXIOUS, AGITATED OR MOODY.