PTSD and the Family Members

Posted on May 7, 2010


If after reading this Post, you want to add something about your own experiences with PTSD whether you are the Veteran or if you are a spouse or family member please do in the comments section. I will post your experiences but leave your name out of it. I will even delete your comment if you wish me to.

Some definitions you will want to know as you read this. Flashbacks – When something from you past keeps coming back to you and you can see it as clearly as the day it happen:  Hyper-Vigilance  – Always being aware of everything around you. Flight or fight –  Always being ready to run or stand and fight.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder , when it comes to the military, almost always relates back to a service member who has served in combat. However, any traumatic event such as rape, can also bring about PTSD.

 In Vietnam, it was the male soldier who got PTSD because women weren’t allowed on the front lines. Well that is BS. Many nurses served on forward base camps. Many women soldiers who served in Service Units also served at base camps. I cannot remember to many base camps that did not get rocketed, or had nightly probes by insurgents sometimes setting off satchel charges (bombs). Many of the female soldiers who worked in the various forms of hospitals were repeated exposed to young men with missing limbs, bad burns and other injuries. Anyone with common sense knows that this type of exposure leads to PTSD. Any of the men or women who worked on the larger base camps were exposed to rocket attacks. The funny thing about rockets is they are not discriminatory. They land where they land. So if you know of a soldier that served at one of these locations “Thank” them for their service and realize that although the VA may still not recognize that they have PTSD their sometimes strange behavior has to do with what they saw and did during time of war. Vietnam like Iraq and Afghanistan had no front lines.

As for the family members. When I came home from Vietnam, I didn’t think I had changed at all. A few of the soldiers showed signs of PTSD from day one. Many don’t show any signs until they get ready to retire. Others show it at different times. Not every solder will show PTSD  in the same manner. The wives and children of returning soldiers are exposed to the results of war through the spouse and fathers/mothers.

It is easy to see a lot of these children because of the Spina Bifida. This is a direct result of Agent Orange. Physical aspects are easier to see then the mental effects. Without realizing it, many soldiers come home a different person. I will try to explain the effects of PTSD on the family by using my own family situation. This is not easy to do.

My first marriage failed after 58 days. She left and never looked back. I was a perfect drunk. I could go for weeks without drinking but when I started I continued until the booze ran out or I passed out. I didn’t realize that I was hiding my PTSD from myself. I don’t remember any problems back then as far as flashbacks or any other symptoms. PTSD was not even known yet but the “Crazy Vietnam Vet” was. I was not a Crazy Vietnam Vet nor was I going to be one. I began self medicating by using alcohol. I didn’t know that is what I was doing until 30 years later. 

I remarried. This time to a young lady who was also in the Army. Her father was a veteran of WWII who had earned three Purple Hearts. He had what was called “Shell Shock” or anxiety. Today that would be called PTSD. I credit the  her being in the Army and her growing up around her father for keeping us together. My actions had not changed. I was still a perfect drunk. Through thick and thin my wife stood at my side. I know I embarrassed her almost on a daily basis with my drinking.

My wife, Carol, and I adopted a baby boy. I think she was hoping that this would change me. It didn’t. In fact, I almost blow our adoption with my drinking. God willing I didn’t. My wife and my son put up with a lot while I remained on active duty in the Army. Towards the end of my career my anger started building. While I didn’t get angry at my family, they did witness my emotional out bursts towards other. My “Road Rage” was out of control. Sometimes these outbursts were violent. Now although I didn’t get violent with my family others suffering from PTSD do.

After I retired from the Army my drinking didn’t quit. In fact it got worse. I wasn’t working at first and my wife was and my son was in school. That left me to much alone time. I hit rock bottom when one day I picked up my son and one of his friends and I was drunk. I embarrassed my son and worse I talked about suicide with him and his friend. My son was 14.  The next day when I sobered up I realized what I had done. I quit drinking that day. Then I went and got a job at the local VA hospital.

My supervisor was a lady who didn’t care about veterans. She only cared about getting the job done. My last job in the Army was that of an Operations NCO. I was responsible for the training and everything that effected it for a battalion. I told the people at the VA I just wanted an easy job. I became a Check In/Out Clerk at the outpatient clinic. I got personal with every Vet that came in. This was frown upon by my supervisor and I was always getting called into her office. My anger started building up again. I requested to see a shrink. He told me I had PTSD and needed to start attending classes and seeing a shrink on a regular basis. I didn’t. Finally I had all I could take and put in for retirement from the VA. I didn’t tell anyone I was retiring until two days before I left.

After I retired I started attending classes on Anger Management on a weekly basis. The two classes that probably helped me the most were the anger management and the “self-talk” classes. The self-talk classes made me understand that if I talked about a situation before I ended up in it I would be okay. For instance. Knowing I had to go into Wally World as long as I told myself everything that I thought was going to happen to me inside the store when a situation came up I would know what to do. Sometimes that meant run. I also started seeing a shrink. At first that was also on a weekly basis then it went to twice a week and finally once a month. I attended these classes for 6 1/2 years and  I continued seeing the shrink for a little over 10 years. My wonderful wife would drive with me to every meeting she could. On the way home, she would read the lesson outline for the day and then we would go over it. She would remind me quite often of the lessons I learned in class. We would be driving down the road and someone would cut me off and she would yell at him and then turn to me and say, “I got him Hon, now you don’t have to”. We would get ready to go to Wally World (Wal-Marts) and she would tell me to stay close to her and everything would be okay. Usually that would work. I tell you this because the classes and seeing the shrink has helped me but if it weren’t for my wife I don’t think I’d be where I am today. I will never be completely rid of PTSD. While I have been able to partially control my “Flashbacks”, “Hyper-vigilance”, “Nightmares” and “Anger” the damage done to my wife and son (who are not eligible for treatment) continues. My son has severe anger problems. He also has severe Panic attacks when he has to go around people or into a new situation. He struggles everyday with life. Even with these problems he still tells me I’m the best dad in the world. My wife also likes to stay away from people. She prefers to stay on top of the hill we live on. We have lived in this area for over 20 years and except for some Army friends that moved into the area she has no other friends here. I’m on medication to help with my PTSD and it covers up my nightmares to where I don’t know I have them. My wife on the other hand makes sure she has a pillow between us to protect her from my actions during a nightmare. To the best of my knowledge I have never hit her but she says I have beat up the pillow several times.

I can and do drink a beer now and then. I never drink more than two a day and I make sure that there are a few hours between them. This is not very often. I try to work with my son  by using the techniques I learned at the PTSD Clinic.

My son is a young man who would have been better if he did not grow up with a father who had PTSD. I thank God everyday that he still loves me. I also pray that someday he will be ready to accept professional help to undo what I did to him.

If you are a veteran or a family member of a veteran and PTSD is causing problems in your life please seek help through the VA. The PTSD clinics run by the VA are tops. They even have some in patient clinics where you stay for 4 to 6 weeks. I know veterans who attended these in-patient clinics and they are amazed the help they have received.