Returning from Combat with PTSD – the impact on family

 

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

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition].

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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A Prisoner of War for Life

It was still dark when I reached Dr. Vessey’s house in Pasadena.  It was late 1999 or early 2000. As sunlight leaked over the horizon, we drove to an alley behind a liquor store where the good doctor was going to meet with some homeless people he’d been helping. One of the homeless people was a Vietnam veteran who wouldn’t let the doctor near him. That’s why I was along—to gain the man’s trust.

I was about to find out how bad combat induced PTSD could be when the VA considers a veteran is 100% disabled. Since the vet I was going to meet couldn’t be trusted to handle his VA disability check, his payments went to a pastor, who was his financial guardian. The pastor decided how much to give him when he came to the church asking for money. The VA disability was enough to rent a studio apartment, but this vet chose to live on the streets where he felt safer. His home was under a blue tarp hidden in some thick brush that lined the side of an empty lot. Later, the doctor drove me there so I could see it.

This vet’s story of abuse was inhuman and tragic. He was a chopper pilot in Vietnam and was shot down becoming a POW where, among other things, he was sexually molested by the Vietnamese guards. I’m not sure I would have survived what he went through.

Dr. Vessey and I arrived first. We parked the car and entered the alley to wait. The homeless people started to arrive one or two at a time until there were about a dozen.  One even crawled out of the Dumpster behind the liquor store. The vet along with two women arrived last. We squatted in the alley and talked. I told the disabled vet my Vietnam story, and he said it was obvious that I’d been there.  Then he opened up and told us his story.

Before he finished, a helicopter (media or police—I’m not sure) flew over, and the vet surprised us when he yelled, “Incoming,” and leaped to his feet running toward what he thought must have been a bunker and safety—the back, brick wall of the liquor store. He ran into the wall and the sound of his body hitting the bricks was a sickening thud as if he were a side of beef being hit by a sledgehammer. He bounced off the wall and collapsed unconscious.  We rushed to him and gathered around. One of the homeless women cradled his injured head in her lap. There was a thick, swollen contusion on his forehead.

He had hit that wall hard enough to rattle the shelved bottles inside, and two men working in the liquor store came around the corner a moment later. They thought a car had hit the store.

This vet would always be a prisoner of war.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award winning author.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do 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.

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