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Help for those with PTSD in looking at those who didn’t develop it

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Memories of war can be vivid for veterans on Memorial Day. A minority struggle with their memories and experiences every day. They have post-traumatic stress disorder. A local doctor believes that learning from those who didn't develop PTSD can help those who did.

Chris Woelk spent one year in combat in the Vietnam War.

"It started out with a really terrible something that I watched when I first got there, and it just seemed like each day brought more of these events," Woelk said.

He came home angry and isolated. He remained so for 30 years.

For Ken Cox, a veteran of Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, it hasn't been so long, but symptoms of PTSD have been no less severe.

"I was homebound," Cox said. "Didn't want to communicate with anyone outside of my spouse."

Eventually, both men started talking with Dr. Hemant Thakur, a psychiatrist at Kansas City's VA Medical Center. Dr. Thakur believes the key to helping those with PTSD is learning from those who experience the worst trauma and don't develop it.

"They look at the trauma much differently than the people that develop PTSD. They focus on what can I learn from this experience, and how do I make use of this for benefit of mankind?" Dr. Thakur said.

Thinking about that has helped Woelk view Vietnam differently.

"I could see how we benefited the people we were around," he said.

Now Woelk is reaching out to thousands of other vets through his website.

With Dr. Thakur's help, he's also learned to stop the broken record in his mind -- the replaying of traumatic events.

"You run it forward and backward, run a needle through it. All of a sudden, you can't remember the play that I've been doing for 30-some years," he said.

"Deep breathing, relaxing and actually letting my thoughts go to a positive place," said Cox of a strategy that he's learned to help him cope.

Now the two veterans say they're leading more positive lives.

About one in eight Americans will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Most are not veterans.