the hidden wound....
Updated: Aug 28
"I am left with basically nothing. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war." - Army veteran Daniel Somers
1-800-273-8255 (press 1)
For deaf or hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889
I have a lifelong friend who dated her husband for a year, and was living with him before she knew he had served in the Vietnam War. She only discovered it when she had found his two purple hearts. During their young marriage, he suffered repeated nightmares where he would awaken with his hands around her neck, ready to strangle her. Her husband had a friend, another Vietnam vet, who was seriously disturbed after being trained in Vietnam to start fires. He had to go to court for something and he told the judge not to set him free; he was afraid he would set fires and kill someone. The judge set him free and a couple of days later he walked onto the freeway and killed himself.
I have another friend whose relative, a high school superstar, a football player, an A+ student, returned from Vietnam and became an alcoholic. On one evening a couple of years after Vietnam, under the influence, he drove his car 120 miles per hour and caused his own death in a single car accident.
Other Vietnam vets whom I know have reported to me their feelings of isolation, anger, shame, survival guilt, lack of trust for anyone and a refusal to talk to their closest family members about their experience.
It's estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
At the Veteran's Affairs website (www.va.gov), these additional signs of PTSD are recognized: withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, startling easily, loss of interest in things they once cared about, misuse of alcohol and drugs, feeling like they are losing their mind, feeling like they are carrying a bag of bricks, feeling on guard, insomnia, a feeling of not wanting to leave the house, unable to go to stores, emotional numbness, night sweats, panic attacks, detachment and a feeling of unworthiness.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is defined as, "an anxiety disorder that develops in reaction to physical injury or severe mental or emotional distress." Although it has disorder in it's name and in the definition, it's now commonly not considered a disorder, but a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. The focus of PTSD is on fear-related symptoms.
Moral Injury is another condition that many vets face. It is a term coined in the 1990s. It's focus is on guilt, shame, anger and disgust. According to Wikipedia, it's described as "perpetuating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations."
I have never been to war, but I have experienced moral injury to a degree, when I learned about a specific atrocity that happened during the war in Afghanistan; it haunts me to this day, which I can't even write about because I don't want you to suffer it also. The image became a part of my memory that I try to erase. Also, my uncle, Edward August Schultz, was killed in Vietnam at age 21; the details of his death caused a moral Injury to me that I try to erase. When an acquaintance was killed in Vietnam and then his father committed suicide, his father experienced PTSD and moral Injury. War affects veterans deeply, and it affects their families also. In addition, it's a huge issue for first responders and, currently, the doctors, nurses and staff who are facing the tragedies of covid-19 deaths. A friend's wife volunteered for six weeks in New York City during their worst outbreak. Working 12 hour shifts for six weeks, she never had one patient survive, and every day she witnessed hundreds of dead bodies filling semi-trucks in front of the hospital.
If you are suffering any of the above symptoms, the bravest thing you will ever do is to reach out. It takes bravery because it goes against what you want. You want it to go away. You want to bury the memories. But the problem is, it doesn't go away by itself, it festers. Some veterans whom I know have reached out, after 40 or so years to other veterans - they started platoon reunions, websites or blogs. They started sharing their stories, which has helped many.
But sometimes this is not enough. I have a friend who, 45 years after his return from Vietnam, reached a low point due to anger, abuse of alcohol, and feelings of isolation; this cumulated into a loss of his marriage and a brief stint in jail due to something he never would have done but for the accumulation of years of trying to block the festering PTSD. My friend, Bob (a pseudonym), says it's important for you to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The first place to seek help is to connect with the Veteran's Administration (VA) at the website, phone number or text numbers that are listed above.
For Bob, 45 years of "stuffing it" didn't work. He had to reach the lowest point in his life before he made the call to get help. But once he did, his life changed. It took work, but he made progress, made like-minded friends, and now, four years later, he is helping others.
Bob's first step when he had reached rock bottom, was to call the VA and make an appointment. They gave him a list of options for healing. One of which was a cognitive therapy class, which he says was the best thing he ever did. He went to classes for a year, and then signed up for a week long PTSD recovery program called Mighty Oaks, of which there are several locations throughout our country. Bob highly recommends it. There is no cost to service men and women for the recovery program; room and board are provided. In their words: "Our intensive peer-to-peer programs serve as the catalyst to assist our nation's warriors in discovering the answers to the big questions in life, dealing with challenges related to the struggles of daily military life, combat deployments and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS)."
Bob then returned to his cognitive therapy class and eventually began helping other vets. There are many options for help today that were not available 45 years ago. Here are just some of the programs that are available and that Bob sends people to:
Mighty Oaks - www.mightyoaksprograms.org (951) 219-6841 Peers helping peers to overcome PTSD
Reboot Recovery - www.rebootrecovery.com (931) 292-2011 Help for military and first responders to overcome trauma
Celebrate Recovery- www.celebraterecovery.com A Christ centered 12 step program
Warrior's Heart - www.warriorsheart.com (830) 225-1609 Treatment for PTSD and/or drug/alcohol abuse
Mission 22 - www.mission22.com (503) 908-8505 They are dedicated to healing veterans.
EMDR - an eye treatment program on You Tube
Roever Foundation - www.roeverfoundation.org (817) 238-2000 Devoted to healing veterans.
Wild At Heart- www.wildatheart.org John and Stacy Eldridge have a self help program based in religion; they have seminars, programs and a workbook and a book called Wild at Heart.
Veteran's Administration- www.va.gov In addition to their crisis line (I-800-273-8255), they suggest online apps for recovery help (AIMS, an app for anger management is an example) and much information about where and how to get help.
If you are feeling alone, isolated, angry, depressed or having panic attacks, or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, take it from Bob - it will change your life if you just reach out. There are people to help, people who care, people who have been there too. Just take that first step to call or go online, and, like it did for Bob, it can change your life.
"It takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help." - Veteran's Administration