Nursing conference focuses on veterans
St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.
The first 14 years of Col. Tim Karcher's 22 years in the military were served without hearing a gunshot fired in anger. That changed in 2004 as he began the first of three deployments to Iraq.
Col. Karcher, director of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, stood on prosthetic limbs before an audience of 200-plus nurses and nursing students Monday and offered advice on how to treat combat veterans.
Col. Karcher was a featured speaker at Missouri Western State University's Joining Forces: Partners in Care program at the Fulkerson Center on campus. Western's Department of Nursing and Allied Health sponsored the event, which was focused on improving care to veterans and military families.
Col. Karcher spoke about how the adjustment from frenetic combat life to life at home brought tension between him and his family after the first deployment.
“Everything doesn't freeze while you're away,” he said. “Kids grow. They get expanded boundaries. You come back in with the old way of thinking. It causes reintegration challenges.”
His second deployment ended early after he was shot in the arm, which required several surgeries and a month in the hospital. His third deployment in 2009 ended after a roadside bomb took both his legs.
Col. Karcher, formerly a 6-foot-4, 220-pound soldier, returned home 120 pounds lighter after several infections nearly took his life. The St. Louis native's story has been featured in network news programs. He describes the three years of work to get him where he is today as a “journey.”
He spoke about the guilt he felt for those who died while under his command, the guilt he felt for leaving his men behind when he was rehabilitating, and how he came to terms with that guilt.
Given the extent of his injuries, Col. Karcher has had plenty of contact with nurses, for whom he has much praise. Part of his presentation Monday was to give advice to the nursing students regarding the patients they'll see who have been touched by combat.
“No matter how you cut it,” he said, “combat changes everyone.”
He addressed post traumatic stress disorder and said it comes in all shapes and size. To help differentiate the severity of it, some look at it like weight loss – some soldiers needed to drop five pounds, but others are 350 pounds overweight.
“There is no cookie-cutter solution,” he said. “Everyone is an individual.”
Suicide among soldiers and veterans has become an epidemic, he said. Most suicides are a result of soldiers not believing anyone cares about them. He urged the students, “don't be afraid to help.”
“The most significant challenge is getting them to open up to you,” he said. But once they do, he said, it's important to not judge them and to “shut up and listen. Let them talk … show them you care. You could save a life.”
Other speakers included Dr. Andrea Zartman, neuropsychologist from the North Texas Health Care System, and Pam Herbig Wall, U.S. Navy Nurse Corps psychiatric nurse practitioner.