Coming homePublished 2:27pm Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Last fall I ran across an old photo of my dad in his Navy uniform. He was holding an infant (me) and sporting a big grin. It was taken the first time he saw me. I was struck by the coincidence that I had come home from war to a child I hadnt seen also. I then thought about all those fathers who didnt make it home to see their children and the children who never knew their fathers. &bsp;
In September of this year (2010) I attended the funeral of my friend Phillip. We were in Vietnam together and have spent some time together since then. We reconnected at a unit reunion and found that we still had that same volatile relationship that we had in Vietnam. We disagreed about things from the very first conversation we had, but learned to respect, even like, each other.
On the first day that I went to the unit where we served together, Phillip approached me and said: I hear youre a conscientious objector. Well, I hope you dont get yourself in some kind of (trouble) and expect me to pull you out. I replied, Well if you get in some kind of (trouble), dont expect me to pull you out either. And Im the medic. Later he told me, I just had to sit down and think about that one, Doc. I was surprised you had that much grit.
Eventually the men of the outfit grew to trust me and came to me for all kinds of issues – physical and otherwise. They still do. I am proud to be there for them and to do whatever I can to be their friend. It is clear to me that many of those I served with including Phillip came home with problems they couldnt understand or even recognize as problems.
I have worried about many of those guys over the years. I saw what theyve dealt with – drugs, alcohol, marriage problems, flash backs, employment problems, isolation, nightmares, and under the surface a simmering rage – the primary symptoms of PTSD. I encouraged many of them to seek help at the VA. Most didnt initially, but now several are in treatment for PTSD. &bsp;
Concerning the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, a recent Rand Corporation report states that 3.3 million deployments have occurred, served by approximately 2 million persons. Obviously many have served more than one tour; some have served several. Rand says that 20% of returnees have symptoms of PTSD. An additional 19% likely have traumatic brain injury (TBI). And still another 7% report mixed symptoms of both PTSD and TBI. In case your math skills are rusty, thats 46%, close to a million returnees who will need assistance.
Rand estimates the cost of serving their needs at $6.2 billion. This will stretch the resources of the VA system. Finding treatment nearby will be impossible in many cases. The impact on the returning soldiers and their families will be great – overwhelming financial difficulties, adjustment factors, unemployability, alcohol/drug abuse, managing the ups and downs associated with the disorders and that rage. Veteran suicide rates have risen drastically in the past 5 years. We will hear a lot about this in the coming years.
Most of our soldiers want to come home. Unfortunately its not as rosy a picture when they actually get here.
Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.