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 Pondering the Past, The Present, the Possible         

Veterans! If you served in Vietnam or any other war, file you claims now. Do not wait any longer. Your benefits will start on the date you claim. You are entitled to these benefits. Seize the moment. Click on the link provided below to apply for Compensation Online. It doesn't take long and you will not need medical nor military documentation at this time. VA Online Benefits Application (VONAP) 

Vietnam and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

 Symptoms of PTSD

Depression

Isolation

Addiction

Rage

Avoidance/Alienation

Nightmares

Anxiety Reactions

Survival Guilt

Sleep Disturbance

Paranoia

Sexual Dysfunction

Road Rage

A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE  

     Many Vietnam veterans continue to be affected by the things they experienced while serving in Vietnam. Although many years have passed, many vets find themselves having intrusive thoughts, experiencing depression, being irritable, frustrated and angry, and isolating themselves from friends and family. There are many studies that point to a core of symptoms found among veterans and many of the core symptoms though mild, exist in even the healthiest, well-adjusted vets. In other cases, more severely affected veterans become greatly impaired in almost all aspects of their lives. These vets suffer immensely. Their relationships suffer, their ability to function on the job is impaired, and for many, financial security is almost non-existent. Most studies, for good reason, focus on the most pathological cases and symptoms. The serious and most severe cases require immediate attention and effective treatment. Experience has shown that the untreated individual faces sometimes life-threatening difficulties.  

    Studies also show that PTSD is not necessarily related to how much combat an individual experienced. I am truly amazed by the ability of so many combat hardened vets, especially so many of the guys I flew with, to keep things so well in perspective. So many of them survived things I only heard about or was remotely involved in, that I am humbled by their strength.

It has been learned that PTSD is largely an individual response to one or more extreme stressors in which psychic numbing takes place. It does not require more than even one occurrence of a traumatic event. It is unclear as to why some veterans appear to "have gotten over it", and others continue to founder and feel the effects years afterward. I believe that those who remained in the military faired better than many of those who didn't. Individuals who remained in the military received a support system not available to most veterans. I also believe that the maturity level of the vets at their time of duty had some influence on the veterans' ability to compartmentalize their experience. Many of us were unhappy with our treatment after the war. The reception we received from the American public was shameful at best and many of us still find it disturbing. Strong religious convictions seem to have helped many other veterans greatly. Others sought and received treatment early on and they too appear to be more adjusted than the average Vietnam vet. Many vets did not seek treatment although they experienced symptoms. Even now, many vets remain in denial refuse to acknowledge their symptoms as being related to their war time experience. I should not fail to mention the existence of many personality disordered individuals who are burdening the Veterans Administration with false claims of PTSD. They are a drain on the system and add to the poor image of the Vietnam Veteran. The phonies, the leeches, the lazy, and the addicted are robbing the American taxpayer blind. These individuals are not considered to be legitimate claimants of PTSD.

 In his article entitled "The Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic and/or Delayed", James Goodwin, PSY.D, identifies and discusses the symptoms and behaviors associated with the two types of PTSD. His article is an in-depth discussion of the effect of PTSD on many VV. Although I have worked in the Clinical Mental Health field for several years, it was not until I read this article that I began to recognize the symptoms and their effects in my own life. After being in denial for so many years,  I began to understand the debilitating and disabling effects of PTSD.

I know, that for me, being shot, and almost dying, deeply affected me. It is not a question of blaming Vietnam, this country, or the military. Nor is this recognition an attempt to jump on the PTSD claim bandwagon and collect benefits to which I am not entitled. Rather, it is an acceptance of my Vietnam experience and being open to the possibility that, I, like many others, underwent profound changes as a result of being at war. Although many of the changes were positive, many were not. The point is, for  many of us, those changes represent a marked difference between how we functioned prior to Vietnam and how we functioned afterward. In terms of symptomology, what might that mean to us?   The following is a list of symptoms that represent a core of symptoms sometimes found in Vietnam veterans. As you read the list and the ensuing discussion, take an inventory of your own life and see if you may have experienced or may be experiencing any of these symptoms:     

Depression; Isolation; Addiction; Rage; Avoidance; Alienation; Anxiety Reactions; Sleep Disturbance and Nightmares; Survival Guilt. It is important to note that many individuals have learned to live with their symptoms, simply because they do not view that which they are feeling or experiencing as being out of the ordinary. Moreover, even when several symptoms do exist in an individual, the severity may be minimal and the individual may not be significantly impaired. Frequently, lifestyle itself can mask or accommodate the symptoms in such a way that they are hardly recognized. For example, the vet who lives alone or in a secluded area has found a way to remove himself from the mainstream of society.

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He thereby has reduced his environmental stress. Denial can also interfere with the veteran's ability to recognize there is a problem.

Depression has come to be known, among other things, as the disease that men don't talk about. For years, it has been known in our culture as a problem experienced mostly by women and as a sign of weakness in men. It is not. Depression is widespread in our culture. It is even more widespread among Vietnam vets. Many vets experience loss of motivation, difficulty with sleep, feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem. The depression often leads to addictive behavior that may in turn exacerbate the depression. Suicide is always a concern in the worst cases of depression. Many Vietnam vets do not understand the feelings they experience and try to ignore the signs and effects. Others who have sought treatment soon find out that the Veterans Administration is very adversarial and very unwilling to help. Where does the vet turn. There are not many options, thus as the vet suffers, so usually does his family.

Isolation: Many vets remain isolated from friends and family. Often vets withdraw into a lifestyle that avoids crowds, social interaction, and close relationships. Upon returning from Vietnam, many vets found themselves the subject of ridicule and scorn. Many of us found that our friends and sometimes even our families had little interest in hearing about our experiences. While some vets put their Vietnam experience behind them and got on with life, many only thought they did.  Others, simply withdrew.

Addiction:  The abuse of drugs and alcohol among Vietnam Vets is pervasive. Many vets were introduced to marihuana and opiates while serving their tours of duty. Others, especially the young vets, returned to a peer drug culture, and began using dope in order to fit in and feel somewhat normal. Many of the older vets who scorned the use of illegal drugs abused alcohol as they never had before. The American Legions and VFWs are membered with many individuals who abuse alcohol almost daily. Many of the vets who choose to isolate, do so as they routinely abuse alcohol or other substances.

It is not uncommon for those who abuse drugs and alcohol to experience serious bouts of depression that may last for months or even years. The depression feeds the addiction and the addiction feeds the depression. This cycle may become the unfortunate and tragic testimonial to a veteran's life. For the otherwise intelligent and highly motivated individual who risked life and limb while serving his or her country, the enjoyment of life, family, friends, and activities, becomes almost impossible.

Rage and Anxiety Reactions in vets are often chronic in nature and veterans learn to avoid the places they perceive as producing them. Like for many combat veterans, the rage would sometimes consume me. At times I would feel it coming and I'd often use alcohol or drugs to self medicate. Other times, the rage was explosive, erupting without warning. Either way, it would always find its way out and the results were often devastating for those around me.  Rage and anxiety result from unresolved feelings of grief,  anger, or helplessness. Those unresolved feelings can explode under the right combination of circumstances and have tragic results. The wives and families of Vietnam veterans suffered immensely through the years right along with the veteran having PTSD. Aphrodite Mataskis, Ph.D. explores the effects of PTSD on the wives and families of Vietnam Vets in her book entitled, "Vietnam Wives". This is one of the finest books ever written on the subject and I highly recommend it.

Avoidance & Alienation are common behaviors found in veterans. Crowded places, loud and boisterous settings, and even family events can become sources of extreme anxiety. Veterans will often avoid those places in which they do not feel safe.  Unfortunately, vets often alienate themselves from the very people they love the most. Intimate relationships can be difficult for the vet with PTSD so such relationships are often avoided. Veterans speak of "wandering" in cars where as they drive aimlessly, wanting to go somewhere but actually going no where.

 Sleep Disturbance/Nightmares: I have experienced nightmares and sleep disturbance since Vietnam. I cannot speak for others but my dreams are often about being vulnerable, in a threatening environment, unarmed, short of ammo, or out of ammo, or short on options. The dreams seem real and I often awaken in a sweat and with my body reacting to stress. The dreams are frequent and so is the sleep disturbance that accompanies them. Now, after a few years of therapy I am able to awaken and observe the physical symptoms and recognize them for what they are. I am no longer left feeling tired and out of energy throughout the day because I can usually get back to sleep. The nightmares continue but have much less impact on my overall well being.

 Survival Guilt: Many vets returned from Vietnam wondering why they survived and others didn't. Many believe that they shouldn't be here or that someone else should have survived instead of them. Others feel badly about the type of duty they may have had there, duty that perhaps didn't put them in harm's way. They may feel they didn't contribute enough where others gave the ultimate sacrifice. The fact is, Vietnam did not offer safe haven to anyone. Service there, by its very nature was dangerous and no one who served there should feel guilty. In war, some lose their lives and others don't. Many Veterans suffer for years, in silence, feeling guilty when they should be very proud of serving and surviving.  After all, isn't survival a primary goal of every soldier?

Therapy has allowed me and many other veterans to be far more open and accepting of our experiences. I am relieved to say that I no longer experience rage and I am thankful that treatment has allowed me to be happy and enjoy life like never before.

PTSD Alliance