Lessons From Vietnam

Fellow Vietnam Veterans:

Over the course of the past two years on this mission, it’s come to my attention that not only are we facing an alarming number of Young Combat Troops in need of serious help, but we also have another and much older wound to heal. Our Vietnam Veterans are suffering now, just the same as the day they returned from the Land of the Little People.

This point was driven home on a call-in radio show I did last year. Out of about 33 callers over several hours, 26 of them were Vietnam Veterans. Some were so choked up they could barely speak, and the pain in their voices broke my heart. From that moment, I began to address this issue as well.

First of all, if my sources are remotely correct, only about three million Troops actually saw combat in Vietnam. Of those, it’s estimated there are only about a million or so of us still left alive. And as far as suicides go, best I can figure, no one really has a clue. These are numbers that are impossible to verify. I’ve heard everything from fifty thousand to a hundred thousand plus. Some studies say that hundreds Vets die every day, and a good portion of those are from the Vietnam War. The tragic reality of this is, that if “one” Veteran commits suicide, it’s one too many. And I know it’s been a lot, cause I’ve known many of them.

I’m sure that those interested in this kind of thing are wondering what it is that’s causing so many Vietnam Veterans to all of a sudden come forward for help. And after talking to folks who I consider experts on the subject, namely the Vet Center Counselors, I’ve now got an idea. And by the way, these are Clinical Combat Psychologists, not psychiatrists. Clinical Psychologists are trained in therapy. You know, the ones who you can actually go in and talk to, get some insight on what’s goin on in your brain housing group, and figure out what the hell to do about it.

Back in the old days, psychiatrists were trained in therapy too, but today, from what I hear, a lot of them use what they call pharmacological therapy. That’s a fancy word for sayin they use mostly drugs to treat problems.

So then, what is it kickin ass on our Vietnam Vets? And this ain’t rocket science. Most of it isn’t. Guess that’s why Mark Twain said “Funny thing about common senses, it’s not too common”.

There are four reasons for what’s happening now. Or at least four that I can figure.

  1. Exposure to the news media. If you watch the news, which I don’t anymore, you get all the crap on what’s goin wrong and how bad it is. This brings back memories of our own war.
  2. Most Vietnam Veterans are my age now and have already, or are about to retire. That means, if they’ve been denying the shit in their heads for all these years, being either “workaholics” or alcoholics, or both, they’ve got time to think. Big problem.
  3. A lot of them have medical problems and when they go to the VA, they get screened for PTSD and depression. That’s part of the process. This brings them back to the emotions they’ve been denying. Many of the Vietnam Vets are on their 2nd, 3rd, or more marriages. And the spouses are encouraging them to get some help to prevent losing the present relationship.
  4. Here’s something that not everyone knows. Time doesn’t matter…. period. If you don’t deal with the shit bath of war now, it’s gonna come back around and bite you on your ass later. Doesn’t matter how long you wait. Trouble is, the longer you wait, the worse it is when you finally deal with the trauma. That’s why when you see WWII Vets talk about their experiences, they break down. It can be 6 months or 60 years, same-e-same.

So how do us Vietnam Veterans deal with the trauma now? You go to a Vet Center and talk to a Clinical Psychologist, a Combat Trauma Counselor. They will help you through what is called “Exposure Therapy” and “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy“.

Exposure Therapy is repeating the event, so that you understand what it is that’s causing the pain in your world. When you do this enough, it then becomes manageable and you can get on with your life. Is it difficult? Hell yes! Can you do it? Absolutely!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is remembering the “Good” times with the brothers (and now sisters) you’ve lost. It’s forming new habits of thinking. As an example, what that means is, when I think back to my brothers that I lost in battle, I don’t think about them dying, I think about the good times we had, blowin shit up, burnin down villages, laughin and eatin C-rats in the monsoons.

This re-conditioning of your thinking gets your focus off of suicide as well. You Honor your dead friends by doing the very best possible each day. That is, 100% effort every single day. Hell, if they thought you were worth dying for, don’t you think you’re worth living for. I do. So would they.

I know there are other issues besides suicide, like dealing with guilt, survivor guilt and loss for example. But the same therapy approaches work on all of these problems. With a bit of work, professional help (that we didn’t have in my time) and the support of your fellow Veterans, life can be better than good. Life can be excellent!! And it doesn’t mean a rat’s ass, how old you are when you start to feel in control of your life and start making a difference. In my way of thinkin, the best thing you can do is go to a Vet Center and talk to a clinical psychologist. That is, a trauma counselor who knows what they’re talkin about.

For more understanding of why you feel anger, rage, the desire to kill others or yourself, see My Friend the Beast and Controlling the Beast. Be advised, it may make sense, may even shake you up a bit. Remember, “Surrender Is Not In Our Creed!”

If you would like to discuss any challenges you may be dealing with, please contact me. (sgtabrandiusmc@gmail.com)