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Monday, April 10, 2006

Today's War Can Be Difficult for Prior Veterans

The Lafayette, LA Daily Advertiser explores how some Vietnam veterans are affected by the past years' wars. [By the way, while combing the Internet for combat-related incidents to add to the PTSD Timeline, I found one heartrending example of how today's war can trigger traumatic reactions in veterans of earlier eras.]

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Daily Advertiser:

Vietnam veteran Donald Gene Young, 57, has a message for Iraqi war veterans. "I tell them young men, 'Don't go through 30 years and four wives like I did to wait to get help,' " Young said.

Young, of Eunice, said the war in Iraq seems to have triggered stress for many of his fellow Vietnam veterans. "It sparked a lot of them. They started really having problems," Young said. "Me, personally, I'm in a 12-man Vietnam group. Nine of them joined the group within the last two years. I knew what I had, but I wouldn't accept it."

Jody Baudoin, social worker at the Lafayette Veterans Administration clinic, said he often hears reports of events in Iraq triggering trauma for Vietnam veterans. "When they watch the news reports - I've heard this from many, many Vietnam vets - it's such a trigger. For them, it's not like remembering it, it's like re-experiencing it," Baudoin said. "When they see a roadside bomb or a casualty, they relive it. To the extent that they can't watch the news any more, they just turn off the television. Some of them feel so compelled to watch it, they can't help it. In a way, I guess they're still fighting their own war."

One PTSD-diagnosed Vietnam veteran says he escapes by watching movies. All kinds -- except for war movies. Donald Gene Young shares his feelings of guilt he's had to learn to live with all of these years, being the only one of seven battle buddies to make it home alive.

He said there still is a stigma for those in the military who experience emotional struggles triggered by the trauma of war. "The military doesn't want to talk about it. The military's job is to put their troops on the front line and do their job. The only reason I survived or anyone else survives is they teach you not to think, they only teach you to respond," Young said.

Gerald De Worth, spokesman for the Alexandria VA Medical Center, said about 608 combat veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have enrolled in health care programs. De Worth said the VA is working to streamline the process for recently-returned veterans seeking help. "The Department of Defense understands that it's going to take time to see if they can transform their culture to accept and not stigmatize soldiers who come forward and need help - that's going to take time," De Worth said.

Paul Lamberty, psychologist with the Lafayette Veterans Affairs clinic, agrees. "You still have the soldiers with the macho attitude. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," Lamberty said. Both Lamberty and De Worth are pleased with the progress toward more Iraq veterans seeking assistance to adjust to life back at home.

After serving a year in Iraq with the Louisiana National Guard 256th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, Ricky Nicholas, 21, said he "had no clue" there would be any difficulties in readjusting to life at home. "I figured that we're all American citizens. This is the life we know," Nicholas said. "We adjusted to life at Fort Hood, in Kuwait and then Iraq, with no problems. I thought if I could adjust to all of this then I could adjust to what I had been used to, but come to find out that's been the hardest one."

Nicholas doesn't believe he has post-traumatic stress disorder, but he said he and his fiancee attend counseling sessions through the VA to help them readjust to his return. Nicholas' efforts to seek help now could pay off in the future. "At first it kind of starts as an adjustment disorder, then if it's not addressed, it can develop into full-blown PTSD," Baudoin said. "You've got to treat it while it's still manageable. If not, it will also trigger secondary problems like alcoholism and other problems. People will self-medicate when they're in pain. It can create a cascade of secondary problems. It can balloon."

The article closes by reminding us that early intervention and action is the key to staying on top of and containing war's after effects.

[UPDATE June 30 2007] A 10 minute video program produced in England called "Not Forgotten" describes how WWII era veterans and their family members have been affected in the decades following their war experiences:

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