Leif, who served as a gunner doing convoy security in Kuwait and Iraq with the Army National Guard, returned home angry and depressed. His spine had been injured in combat, but his injuries were also psychological. For two years, he says, he drank every day from morning to night to self-medicate himself.
When he experienced his first panic attack, he says, “My neck clenched. It was an overwhelming feeling, like a sniper was pointing at me.” He would drive fast on the freeway because he felt like he was still in a “Kill Zone,” and he began to have suicidal thoughts. As a result, he could not hold down a job. Leif eventually sought help from the Veterans Administration (VA), where he found camaraderie with other veterans who had experienced similar symptoms, including Vietnam Vets who had recovered from PTSD who served as advisers to the group.
Source: The VA’s Make the Connection web site, which offers veterans’ accounts of post-combat adversities and their steps to recovery.
J.T. served in an infantry unit in Vietnam from for a year, starting in May of 1968. He was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Army Commendation Medal. After his return home, his PTSD symptoms began, with “repeated nightmares of events in Vietnam, rage and anger, and anxiety.” He experienced depression and fought suicidal thoughts, and also had difficulty with authority figures. “He says he began using alcohol and drugs, as many other PTSD sufferers have, “to self-medicate in order to sleep, relax or still anger.”
By 1990, he had “hit bottom” and contacted the VA for help. A counselor from his local Vet Center in South Dakota helped get him into drug and alcohol abuse treatment at the VA. He also now participates in a closed group of vets with PTSD who meet once a week at the Vet Center. J.T. says that he has found that “medication, regulated by a physician, and the Vet Center group are beneficial in helping me to live a normal life.”
Source: personal correspondence
Back to: Winter 2012 Issue