In the 1970s, as the last of the U.S. combat troops were returning home from Vietnam, there wasn't a word for the range of issues veterans were experiencing. Flashbacks, anxiety, insomnia, and depression were swept under the rug and wholly misunderstood. In many cases, the limited mental health options during that time meant Vietnam War veterans went decades without a diagnosis and without ever receiving treatment.
Now 40 years later, we consider ourselves a more informed society. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a household term, and the V.A. has policies and procedures in place for recognizing and treating the disorder.
But how much has our understanding and treatment of the disorder really evolved? Two veterans who served in two different wars—Vietnam and Iraq—share their remarkably similar experiences of coming to terms with PTSD.
Douglas Howell was a Marine Corpsman in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. While he deployed in the 1960s, but he was only diagnosed with PTSD in the late 1980s and it took decades more for the V.A. to concede that his PTSD had anything to do with Vietnam. Today under U.S. law a vet no longer has to struggle to prove his wartime experiences caused emotional difficulties to receive treatment from the V.A. There are treatments and networks of support today that didn't exist a generation ago.
They are a gift from the Vietnam generation to the generation of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mary McGriff is a retired Captain in the United States Air Force. She served at Balad Air Force base in Iraq in 2004. Though she didn’t see combat, her base was under constant attack. She volunteered at a hospital where she witnessed horrific things things and began exhibiting symptoms of PTSD immediately after returning from Iraq in 2005—but she didn’t have a name to put to it.
McGriff feels like she fell through the cracks between 2005 and 2011. She had to seek out her own treatment in the beginning because she feared stigma within the military.
These are two veterans of two very different wars, and they are separated by nearly 30 years. Today they share their own experiences of PTSD.