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My husband is 100% disabled, total and permanent, with service connected PTSD. I am grateful to be here with him. I have known him all my life. He was a kind, sensitive, hard working boy. He delivered papers and played every sport including being a tackle in football at only 5'5' 150 lbs. He never knew how to quit. He was always my favorite guy, almost a brother. I compared all others to him and they all came up short.
We both grew up, I married a man from another town and he went to VietNam. When he came back, he came to see me. He really tried to talk about what his job was as a Marine Tank Commander (during Tet, along the DMZ at 18 years old). He really wanted to come home. To not be different from everyone else. I will never forget his face as he talked. It was like a victim of a Nazi camp. I could see the horror and the distance and it made me sick deep in my soul because I saw a dead man. They had sent his body back but had killed him still. I grieved for him as if my best friend had died a terrible death.
As years went by we each raised our families as best we could. I lost a son at 15 in a senseless car accident. My marriage did not survive. He married and had children but the PTSD was to big a price for his family.
One day last September, he was visiting his family in our home town.(I had moved back to town) He called me from his mother's house. I came right over anxious to see him. It had been years. When I walked into his mother's kitchen, I saw my favorite guy was alive. Not like the old guy, he was battered but not broken.
After suffering the loss of my son, I had also learned that some things can happen in life that change you forever. There are horrible and cruel absolutes in life. There are also miracles. I was looking at one. How did he ever manage the strength to stay alive?
Since then we have married and I am so grateful to be with him. He is still my hero. Even more now that I know how hard he has to work to keep going. Sometimes it's scary and sometimes it's lonely but he is worth the hardships because in his heart I am his princess. He shows me when he can. When he can't and the disorder takes over, I pray to the same God who put us together to help me not make things any harder than they have to be and to help me to let go of the pain and anger. So far he has been right there. We also have a great deal of support from our local VA Center. He has weekly groups with other vets. It is good to spend time with people you don't have to explain everything to. His counselor is a good man and always has time for me, also. Sometimes he sees us after my husbands group if we are going through a rough patch.
Freedom is never free and I am grateful to be with a good man who gave his all without knowing what the consequences would be. Nobody makes a movie of the years and years after the hero walks off in the sunset....Rebecca
a story published in VA literature...
A woman from the village approached the soldier, thrust the wiggling baby in the man's arms, then suddenly ran away. Although the day was hot and clear, a tattered blanket securely covered the infant. The grenade hidden in the blanket with the baby exploded. The viet-Cong and the North Vietnamese Army marched behind their women, children, and old men. They knew our soldiers didn't want to shoot women or children or old men, and this hesitation to fire gave the VC and NVA the chance to kill many Americans. The VC and NVA easily sacrificed their women, children, and elderly.
Most of my knowledge about the Vietnam War has come recently from my ex-husband, Marvin Sims. He was drafted in 1966, shipped to Vietnam in 1967, and sent home in 1968. He flew into a rage, joked, or left the house if I asked him a question about his tour of duty in Southeast Asia. I quickly learned to eliminate two words from my vocabulary, "Vietnam" and "war".
The combat veteran's survival skills in the jungle couldn't be used in our society. The soldier was sent home to a world that no longer existed for him. There was no debriefing, adjustment period, or time to mourn the loss of those who died. Four days before coming home, Marvin fought in the jungle and dodged sniper fire. He returned believing he was the same as when he first entered the Army. He thought everyone else had changed. Marvin didn't ventilate his anger or frustration associated with this war. He said, "I thought I was the only normal person around. Everyone misunderstood me. Now I know I had the problem." He realized this in 1992 when he hit bottom. He asked for help at the Veteran's Hospital in Houston. After talking to a psychologist at their Peace Center, he was referred to one of the Vet Centers. There are two in Houston. Guilt consumed Marvin because he returned home unscathed while men walking beside him were shot through the head. Marvin and others who returned without dying continued to die a little on the inside each day.
Marvin has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a chronic anxiety disorder first acknowledged by our government in 1980. I can understand now why our lives were ripped apart. Marvin could no longer feel love and compassion. "I was afraid to care for anyone because they might die or leave", he said. As a result of his emotional numbness, Beverly grew up thinking her father didn't love her. Most veterans with PTSD have parenting problems, and their children almost always suffer emotionally. Marvin and I both saw a psychiatrist for several years, but our thirteen year marriage ended in 1977.
From 1977 until 1992, Marvin hated me and tried to get revenge because I wanted the divorce. This hurt Beverly more than anyone. I tried to explain that her father loved her but couldn't show it. She refused to believe me. Marvin blamed me for his pain and heartache. "I wouldn't call Beverly because you might answer, and I didn't even want to hear your voice. I never knew she thought I didn't love her," he said. According to Jesse McNeal, a therapist at the Vet Center in Houston, the divorce rate among Vietnam veterans is extremely high, and the marriages that have stayed intact are usually dysfunctional. Approximately 70% of our Vietnam veterans: have been divorced at least once. Some veterans have multiple marriages, and five is not an uncommon number. Many veterans have trouble holding a job and taking responsibility within the family unit. Unhealthy patterns often develop in families with a combat veteran who has PTSD.
Survivors of tragedies, disasters, and other wars may have PTSD, yet this disorder is found most often in Vietnam veterans. Symptoms are usually severe, and the severity of the symptoms is often related to the degree of combat experienced by the soldier. Research has been done-to determine why some veterans develop PTSD while others remain free of this disorder. McNeal agrees with research that says sensitive individuals who have strong morals and values are more susceptible because the savage acts of war go against deeply held beliefs. The way children were treated is perhaps the most emotionally damaging aspect of that war.
One veteran's life will never be the same because he can't erase the image of the child he saw running towards his company. He watched in horror as the child came closer, knowing he had to make a split-second decision when he saw explosives tied to the frail little body. Such decisions can tear a mind to shreds. A nurse met helicopters bringing in the wounded. She decided who the doctors would treat first. Some of the injured died while waiting. This nurse suffers from PTSD and is paralyzed by fear each time she hears a helicopter. She still sees in her mind the wounded soldiers who died and wonders if she's responsible for any of the deaths.
A homeless Vietnam veteran was brutally murdered in a wooded area of Houston. According to news reports the men called their home in the woods "Little Saigon". Perhaps they tried to relive a portion of the life they knew in Vietnam. Some veterans aren't able to reenter society when they return home, so they live as best they can. Tragically, many who survived a vicious war have been unable to survive a vicious society.
Approximately 40% of the Vietnam combat veterans are in prison, and about 30% of the homeless in our country are Vietnam veterans. Many veterans have trouble relating to authority figures, and they are five times more likely to be unemployed than those in the general population. Marvin exhibited the typical symptoms of many veterans with PTSD. He laughed and used sick or cruel humor, or he withdrew and became cold and distant. He turned to beer for comfort, thus becoming part of a growing number of veterans who abused drugs or alcohol. When our daughter was born in 1969, Marvin acted happy. Complications during the delivery almost killed me, and he didn't seem to care. He named the baby Beverly instead of the name we'd picked out. He said in an icy voice devoid of emotion, You might die anyway, so I didn't think it mattered what I named her." The murder of a close friend seven years after Marvin returned brought no reaction or emotional response. Marvin was growing more insensitive, almost cold-blooded. That's how many veterans coped with tragedy. They withdrew emotionally and pretended not to care.
Some symptoms of PTSD include depression, anxiety, guilt, an inability to feel emotions, withdrawal, alcohol or drug abuse, sleep disturbances, paranoia, anger outbursts, drastic personality changes, an impaired ability to function in society. Although I visited the Vet Center with Marvin and the men there knew him, they still treated me with caution and suspicion. Trust is difficult for most combat veterans. Vietnam altered the course of numerous lives and wrecked many others. Some say PTSD isn't real and the veteran tries to find something to hide behind, something to blame for the misery in his life. A veteran with visible scars, broken bones, missing or mangled limbs is usually treated with compassion. An invisible illness is difficult to accept or understand. A veteran with PTSD is frequently treated with contempt. I knew the war had harmed Marvin in some way, but I didn't realize the seriousness of his invisible injuries. The man I married was easy-going, happy, congenial, and kind. The stranger who returned in his body was often a monster. Occasionally I see traces of Marvin's old self, but according to McNeal the personality is altered forever.
The turning point in Marvin's life came in 1992 when he returned to church and asked God to help him. Jeremiah 6:14 says, You can't heal a wound by saying it's not there." (Living Bible) Marvin's prayers and the prayers of others helped him admit he had a problem. The support he's received at the Vet Center has contributed to his progress. The breakthrough in Marvin's therapy came when he was able to talk about a bloody battle on December 15, 1967. The day was warm and sunny. His company approached a large village surrounded by rice paddies and small hills. Numerous heavily grown hedgerows restricted visibility considerably. As Marvin's company neared the village, sniper fire hit some of the soldiers. Air strikes were called in and artillery pounded the area. Enemy soldiers were heavily equipped and outnumbered ours considerably. By nightfall, seven U. S. companies and two ARVN (Army of the Republic of vietnam--South Vietnam) battallions were in the area. Artillery fires continued throughout the night. Massive casualties resulted for both sides. Five men in Marvin's company were killed, eight wounded. A man walking beside Marvin dropped dead, a bullet between the eyes. A new lieutenant sent to the company that day lost his life several hours later. Two days passed before Marvin learned a close friend in another company had been killed in that battle.
There was no time to mourn, so Marvin and the other soldiers blocked out any feelings and became emotionally dead. Marvin didn't grieve for those who died in Vietnam, and his emotional death continued when he returned home. The therapist at the Vet Center told Marvin to write a letter to a dead friend as though the friend were still alive. As Marvin read the letter in therapy, he felt sorrow and shed tears for the first time in twenty-five years. Marvin said he is just now beginning to have emotions and mourn the loss of his friends. Marvin has made progress since beginning therapy in 1992, but he still has a long way to go. Twenty-five years of emotional scarring takes time to heal.
McNeal said everyone in the family is somehow affected by a veteran's PTSD. Support groups are now being established to help. McNeal understands the problems veterans and their families face because he is a Vietnam veteran. According to McNeal, there is no cure for PTSD. Veterans with this disorder are taught coping skills. They replace abnormal or impaired techniques with new attitudes and thoughts. Medication is prescribed when necessary. Help is available for veterans, and those who can't pay for treatment receive it free. Veterans usually contact the Veteran's Hospital first for an evaluation. Then they are referred to the Vet Center. McNeal said Vet Centers are being set up around the country to help those veterans who need assistance.
Our nightmare has a happy ending. Marvin is tying to show Beverly how much he loves her, and they now enjoy a close relationship. She said he has become the father she's been praying for. Fortunately, Marvin and I now communicate freely and no longer hate each other. Marvin will talk about the war and admit he is a Vietnam veteran. Many veterans were too embarrassed to say they'd fought in that awful war because of the antagonism towards them when they returned home. Most refused to talk about what happened to them because they couldn't cope with the gruesome reality of what they had to do to survive. Atrocities were committed by both sides. Some veterans pretended these evil acts never took place. The hostility in this country, the protesters, and the draft dodgers stirred a rage deep inside the veterans who risked their lives in a country thousands of miles away.
We haven't adequately mourned as a nation the tragedy of Vietnam. We haven't come to terms with a war that should have never happened. Our troops were commanded to fight, the Vietnam War was not their fault. Our soldiers were forced into combat, then brought home to scorn and ridicule. Proverbs 14:10 tells us, "Only the person involved can know his own bitterness or joy--no one else can really share it." (Living Bible) Since we haven't walked in their shoes, perhaps the healing process can begin when we support our Vietnam veterans and try to understand what went wrong.The End