SERVING OUR VETERANS: A family’s story about PTSD
On January 9th of this year, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order titled, “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.” This Executive Order directs the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security to develop a plan to ensure that all new Veterans receive mental health care for at least one year following their separation from service. This is a good goal. In past columns, I have discussed this serious issue of PTSD. Since the War on Terrorism began following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, this country has deployed thousands of soldiers to destroy and eliminate these radical groups. Unfortunately, as the years have dragged on in this effort, many of our uniformed men and women have come home suffering from the mental and emotional effects of the horrors they have experienced. It is good that steps are being taken to help these veterans. We are making progress dealing with this serious issue but the battle is far from over. PTSD is not a new casualty of war. It has always been the result for many, in all wars. It was first identified as being shell-shocked or having battle fatigue. Treatment for this illness up through the Viet Nam War was minimal.
I recently visited a fellow veteran and friend of mine. With detailed emotion, he shared with me the story of his older brother who suffered with PTSD. This illness, in a direct way, eventually led to his death. My friend gave me his approval to share this story but asked that I do not use names. Although they were fifteen years apart in age, the two brothers were very close. The older brother joined the North Dakota National Guard (164th Infantry Regiment) around the 1948-49 time period, following graduation from high school. His unit was activated during the first part of the Korean War in 1950 and the unit became part of the highly decorated 1st Cavalry Division. After the war ended in 1953, the war veteran returned home and stayed in the National Guard and eventually retired from the Guard as an officer. However, the horrors and atrocities which he had seen and experienced never left him. Shortly after his return from the war, he began drinking heavily. Alcohol had never been a problem or issue with him before the war. My friend remembers being awakened in the night by his brother’s hollering and screaming. His mother would try to comfort him from his nightmares. He was often sweating so profusely, she would have to put clean, dry sheets on his bed. Because of their close relationship, his brother would share, in detail, events he had experienced during the war. He never shared any of these graphic details with other family members. He would describe combat conditions where the enemy would keep attacking in wave after wave, and the terrible things he saw and had to do to survive. Sometimes, he felt it would never end. In a way, it never did.
Eventually, the older brother moved on, got married, and raised five children. However, the drinking never stopped and got worse as the years went by. He could work all day at his place of employment and then come home and drink a case of beer in the evening. When the beer no longer brought him what he needed, he switched to brandy. He often was angry and would blow up over seemingly simple things. He provided for his family, but the drinking did not allow him the time to spend doing other things with his wife and children. So sadly, this illness did not affect only him and the family he was born into, but also now affected the next generation of his wife and children. The lasting effects of this illness continues for many years, if not treated. Eventually the drinking, along with a three to four pack a day cigarette habit, led to a stroke, from which he never fully recovered. He died at a fairly early age in his mid-sixties.
I want to thank my friend for allowing me to share this story with you. It is our hope that it will help remind us of the tragedy of this illness we call PTSD. This illness can be devastating to those involved. Like other serious illnesses, sometimes it cannot be cured, and the person dies. The only hope we have is to seek treatment for the individual before it is too late. If you have a family member, or a friend, suffering from this illness, please do everything you can to try and get help for them. For the sacrifices they have made for our country, we owe them at least this much. For those, like my friend’s brother, let us remember them for the sacrifices they made for us. For the demons they fought, and could not overcome, let us pray they have now found peace.