I love working with the veterans.
As a whole they are one of the nicest groups of patients to work with. Pleasant, easy-going, very appreciative.
You get the occasional grumpy one, or sometimes an angry one. I don't like stereotypes, but have noticed that if the patient is very withdrawn or easily angered, they are more likely than not to be a Vietnam vet. Not that they always volunteer this information.
They have good reasons to be the way they are, and we (society) are all at fault for not taking better care of these soldiers. It's been sad, though, to see them suffer, and not be able to reach them or help them.
Except today, I met a cheerful, pleasant, seemingly well-adjusted Vietnam vet. So I asked him why he was so different...
He said that he started out no different that others of his time. That he had come home from Vietnam after having his body blown up and his squadron decimated and had been ashamed and very angry at himself and others. He had carried that anger with him over the years and struggled with severe PTSD, depression, and battled with alcohol, drug abuse, and failed relationships. He never talked about what he went through, because no one could understand. He was too proud to ask for help for decades, and noticed that no one offered to help.
What was different was that he eventually sought help. It was only when he hit rock bottom that he asked for help, and, among other things, ended up joining group therapy sessions. Now, five years out, he still suffers from PTSD. He still struggles with anger, but it is dramatically better controlled. He still relives Vietnam - "just left yesterday. Today." When he talks, you still see the haunted soul of a man asked to do things most people would be unable to do. And you see that he carries the burden of having done those things, for all of us. Because instead of your father, or mine, he was sent to Vietnam, and had to live through the atrocities of war. And because he is human, and humane, he cannot let himself forget things that were done, that had to be done, in the midst of war.
I wish there were some way of telling him that he does not have to carry such a heavy burden alone. That he cannot be guilty for being a soldier, for doing the job that he was given. That if anything bad came of his actions, the fault is society's and society's alone for having created and propagated war and for having thrust an innocent young man forward to take the fall. And that no high power, if he believes in one, would hold him accountable for things out of his control.
He has overcome more in his personal struggles than many of us accomplish in a lifetime. He is an inspiration, because if he can do this, after decades of anger and self-destruction, then all of us should be able to learn to let go of our negative emotions, and unhealthy habits and beliefs. I hope that he finds peace, and having met him so very briefly, I think he is well on his way.
I should learn to be more like him.