14:15 PM

American Family employee helps support veterans with PTSD


Jessica Yttri shares how she is learning and giving back by volunteering at organizations that support veterans, including those with PTSD.


When’s the last time you had a nightmare? Was it just a dream, or were you reliving something that actually happened? As a young girl, I woke to the sounds of my grandfather screaming at night as I slept in the next room. Grandpa was a prisoner of war during World War II and had flashbacks – or what I now know to be “re-experiencing.” It was brushed under the rug. I’ve always had tremendous respect for people who’ve served in the military, including many relatives and friends. So, when American Family launched a Veterans/Military Business Resource Group for its employees to help connect current and former military members to the workplace, and to shine light on issues particular to those who’ve served, I didn’t hesitate to join.

Then, in February, a friend returned from Afghanistan intending to return to civilian life after over 20 years in the military. He said he felt out of place. He pulled away. In talking with my dad, he mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’d heard of it, though I didn’t actually understand it. So I started reading, talking to friends, going to plays and movies on the topic and, ultimately, volunteering with organizations that support veterans, including those living with PTSD.

The National Center for PTSD defines it as “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault.” Common symptoms include re-experiencing, hyper-arousal, avoidance and feeling worse about oneself or the world. Approximately 7-8 percent of Americans will have PTSD during their lifetime. Some of the groups I volunteer with include a dog-handling program for veterans suffering with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI); an organization that helps the nation’s more than 107,000 homeless veterans find resources to “combat” life on the streets; and an equestrian center that uses horse therapy to help veterans adjust to post-military life. Through these meaningful experiences, I’ve learned more about PTSD and have made connections with countless veterans by listening without judgment and providing unwavering support.

I may never fully understand it, and don’t believe anyone who hasn’t lived through a traumatic event really can. But I’m trying to learn all that I can to help break down the stigma associated with PTSD so people feel open about talking about their experiences. As a result, I feel closer to my grandfather and have supported my friend in getting the help he needs.