Two Veterans Separated by 30 Years Come to Terms With PTSD

Thursday, August 08, 2013

(Fisun Ivan/Shutterstock)

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.

Though she didn’t see combat, her base was under constant attack

Guests:

Douglas Howell and Mary McGriff

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja, Megan Quellhorst and Mythili Rao

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [11]

Nancy Howell from Syracuse, New York

Thank you for sharing some of your story. Your experience shall not go in vein. It takes courage to stand up and speak about PTSD. So many people feel that they are alone with their struggle and do not have a person to turn to. Stigma stands as an obstacle before recovery and it is important to have positive, non-judgmental, and strong voices for those whom are not strong enough at this time to speak on their own. Keep up the good work!

Aug. 12 2013 11:45 PM
Megan Broyles

Unfortunately, unless there is some kind of social/cultural revolution in this country, I can't foresee an end to PTSD. I see no end of war in sight as long as the people and corporations running this country stand to profit more from war than from peace. The say the war in Afghanistan is ending, but companies are developing soldier enhancing suits and numerous other military technologies... What's the point of developing this kind of technology unless your plans are to use it, and sell it. Our Dept of Defense is truly a Dept of offense, and until the average citizens of this country stand up as one and demand a change, our young men and women will continue to die and be traumatized in the guise of freedom for corporate profit.

Aug. 09 2013 09:21 AM
Patrick McPartland from Toms River, New Jersey

Thank you for this story. This story is very helpful as I start training to be a Navy Chaplain. What a great story to show the common things suffered from war trauma. Listening seems to be the key.
God Bless the veterans and their families!

Aug. 08 2013 04:27 PM
Nili Bresler from Tel Aviv, Israel

Thank you John and thank you Douglas and Mary for opening up a window into PTSD. Though no longer taboo,PTSD is so often kept secret from our closest friends and families. I never talk about PTSD, though I live with it. I know I was lucky to have gotten a diagnosis and urgent help, soon after the trauma I experienced. One thing Douglas said resonates with me: "PTSD is not a black and white issue. PTSD is a great big ugly blob of gray." I have lived in that gray zone for over 20 years. I am sure that the stories you shared today will give many people the courage to open up and seek help. Thank you.

Aug. 08 2013 04:10 PM
Gail Tague from Bend, OR

I am so glad that this issue is being talked about so much on the air these days. My late husband suffered from PTSD. He was a Vietnam vet I met in 1997. I suspected that he suffered from PTSD. After knowing him for two years he went into a deep depression and his behaviors confrimed that he suffered from PTSD. I told him so, and he said I was the first person to ever say he had PTSD. Even VA pshychologists had missed it; due to his very high level of intelligence he was able to be high functioning. It took me another five years to convince him to connect with Veterans groups and to get help appliying for disability for the PTSD, and another four years to get the disability rating he deserved, i.e. the broken Veterans Administration. It would have never happened if not for veterans outreach groups. Bless them. I would encourage ANY vet especially those suffering from PTSD to seek out veteran outreach groups. Most, I believe, are run by veterans wanting to help their fellow vets. My husband and I were lucky, I had somewhat of an understanding of PTSD and that helped us both cope until his death.

Aug. 08 2013 03:17 PM
Gail Tague from Bend, OR

I am so glad that this issue is being talked about so much on the air these days. My late husband suffered from PTSD. He was a Vietnam vet I met in 1997. I suspected that he suffered from PTSD. After knowing him for two years he went into a deep depression and his behaviors confrimed that he suffered from PTSD. I told him so, and he said I was the first person to ever say he had PTSD. Even VA pshychologists had missed it; due to his very high level of intelligence he was able to be high functioning. It took me another five years to convince him to connect with Veterans groups and to get help appliying for disability for the PTSD, and another four years to get the disability rating he deserved, i.e. the broken Veterans Administration. It would have never happened if not for veterans outreach groups. Bless them. I would encourage ANY vet especially those suffering from PTSD to seek out veteran outreach groups. Most, I believe, are run by veterans wanting to help their fellow vets. My husband and I were lucky, I had somewhat of an understanding of PTSD and that helped us both cope until his death.

Aug. 08 2013 03:17 PM
Susanna from Dallas, TX

Thank you so much for sharing this story. My husband has PTSD and it is a daily struggle, and an uphill battle. The frustration he has trying to get help from the VA is a daily endurance for us and it is difficult watching someone you love struggle while you sit there feeling helpless. It was so nice to hear others speak of their hardships and trials with PTSD. I am so appreciative of all veterans and soldiers and thankful my spouse has great combat buddies to turn to in times of need. I know I will never understand what it is like to have PTSD, but it is so comforting to hear words of advice from others. My hope for my husband has been strengthened. It was much needed today.

Aug. 08 2013 01:08 PM
Kay Merkel Boruff from Dallas

Mary & Douglas, thank you for your stories and thank you for giving other the courage to get help for their PTSD. Your stories are gifts for your children and loved ones. The VA Hospital in Dallas where I volunteer offers help at the Veteran's Recovery Center for PTSD, addiction, & brain trauma through music, acting, writing, cooking, & therapy. I lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 and was married to an Air America pilot KIA flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Writing & volunteering helps me with my PTSD and loss. Thank you for your service. Thanks, John, for offering this topic.

Aug. 08 2013 12:52 PM
Abyane

After having listened to dozens of similar shows it becomes noticeable there's one topic that never emerges out of the almost navel gazing exclusive focus, both by vets and show hosts, on the vet's own immediate personal experiences, situation and suffering. Namely, what got them into the situation leading to their trauma in the first place.

That would be the military brass and politicians. Who, far removed from the battlefield in their air conditioned offices cook up, to the delight of military contractors and arms manufacturers, false pretenses to support their warmongering enabled and indulged -in a democracy- by an apathetic when it's not jingoistic public.

Aug. 08 2013 11:40 AM
Doug Howell from St Clair Shores, MI

Thank you Mythili, Megan and John for doing this. It's a collective story, made up of so many individuals, and very much needs to be told.
Honored to be part of it.

Doug Howell

Aug. 08 2013 10:06 AM
Chris Doan from Rochester Hills, MI

Thanks for this story, John. I'm moved to tears by the experiences of these veterans and their courage in facing PTSD and now talking about it to all of us.

Aug. 08 2013 09:51 AM

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