I returned from Vietnam late December of 1966, and I did not talk about the war for years. Instead I kept it locked in my head, but I slept with a K-BAR that had a seven-inch blade. The reason I did not sleep with a pistol was because I feared shooting my wife.
I drank too much. I had an explosive temper. When the anger overwhelmed, instead of hitting her, I punched holes in the drywall and drank more.
After falling asleep at night, the flashbacks were vivid, violent and real. There were times that I carried a loaded rifle through the house checking the doors and windows to secure the perimeter. Sometimes I still do. All it takes is an unexpected noise and out comes a loaded weapon and I cannot rest until I know my family is safe.
After the first divorce in 1979, I stopped drinking and fight to contain the anger, and—at the time—most of us still didn’t know what PTSD was. It helped that I started writing about my time in Vietnam in the MFA program I started at Cal Poly, Pomona causing me to open up and talk about what I experienced in the war.
There is no cure for PTSD, but with understanding, the afflicted might be able to manage the trauma better and avoid destroying families and lives. For sure, drugs and alcohol are a bad mix with PTSD.
The impact of PTSD on families is shocking. “Research that has examined the effect of PTSD on intimate relationships reveals severe and pervasive negative effects on marital adjustment, general family functioning, and the mental health of partners.
“These negative effects result in such problems as compromised parenting, family violence, divorce, sexual problems, aggression and caregiver burden.
“About 38% of Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of returning from the war. The overall divorce rate among Vietnam veterans is significantly higher than the general population.” Source: ptsd.va.gov
Impact on family
The divorce rate among Afghanistan, Iraq War Vets increased 42% throughout the wars.
A July 2010 report found that child abuse in Army families has been three times higher in homes from which a parent was deployed, for example. From 2001 through 2011, alcohol use associated with physical domestic violence in Army families increased by 54%, and with child abuse by 40%. Source: cost of war.org
In addition, Expedition Balance.org says, “It’s harder for veterans with PTSD to hold jobs.
“The VA reported that more than 130,000 veterans were homeless on any night.
“Studies show that families where a parent has PTSD are characterized by increased anxiety, unhappiness, marital problems and behavioral problems among children.
“People with PTSD are more likely to have problems with drugs and/or alcohol.
“People who suffer from PTSD and depression are significantly more like to take their own lives.
“Female veterans have a higher rate of military sexual trauma. They have a higher rate of divorce and homelessness as well.”
The Huffington Post reported that “Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who struggle with the anger and emotional outbursts of combat trauma are more than twice as likely as other veterans to be arrested for criminal misbehavior … Veterans ‘who perceive that they have control over their future and who have greater psychological resilience’ are better able to refrain from violence, the study said.”
For me, managing the PTSD—so it does not manage me—is a full time job that is not always successful.
In 2011, there were 21.5 million combat veterans in the United States. Source: American Veterans by the Numbers (that is the cost of America’s endless wars)
Discover A Prisoner of War for Life
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.
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