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PTSD – fighting a war within- Vietnam veteran offers insight into misunderstood mental condition

Written by Contributor. Posted in Featured, Health & Wellness

Published on November 08, 2017 with No Comments

by Steve Euvino

Jim Chancellor, an honored Vietnam veteran, discusses post traumatic stress disorder at a veterans round table program on Friday, Oct. 27 at the Jean Shepherd Community Center in Hammond.

During World War I, this mental condition was called shell shock. In the Second World War, the label was changed to battle fatigue. Today this condition is called post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as “a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it.” Symptoms, the clinic reports, include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the incident.

Such an incident might include natural disasters, automobile accidents, terrorism, or witnessing death. As such, military personnel are prime candidates for PTSD.

As part of a veterans round table discussion held on Friday, Oct. 27, Jim Chancellor, an honored Vietnam veteran and former helicopter door gunner, addressed PTSD at the Jean Shepherd Community Center in Hammond.

Chancellor, who served overseas from 1969 to 1970, said as a member of a helicopter unit under fire, “I experienced all the emotions we’re going to talk about” regarding PTSD.

Triggers to PTSD, Chancellor said, include serious threats to one’s life; seeing someone who is being seriously injured or who has been injured or killed; assaults, domestic violence or rape; combat; and other life-and-death scenarios.

As a soldier, Chancellor said, “life-and-death situations happen all the time. You don’t have time to think about it.”

However, Chancellor noted, these situations can become like demons, and, he said, “The demons of darkness hold our veterans at night.”

A Lowell resident who earned a Purple Heart and Heroism Medal for Valor, Chancellor said the onset of PTSD can be acute or come early; chronic, with an early onset but prolonging more than six months; or delayed, occurring six months from the traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD include isolation, depression, survival guilt, anxiety reactions, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks and night terrors.

Combat involves making moral, split-second decisions, Chancellor said.  Noting that 11 of his fellow gunners were killed during his tour of duty, the veteran said, “How could you go to war and be the same?”

Additional symptoms include poor memory, difficulty sleeping or falling asleep, irritability, anger outbursts, and difficulty concentrating.

“It’s different for a lot of people,” Chancellor said.

Relating his own experiences, Chancellor said he is wary of people in the mall, thinking they might be the enemy. When he is separated from his wife at the store, he calls to check on her.

There are other side effects, even more dangerous, from PTSD. Chancellor said these include suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, and divorce.

One Air Force veteran speaking at the round table served in Operation Desert Storm. His duties included loading body bags onto aircraft. While in Desert Storm, the soldier started drinking. He served multiple tours, but the drinking continued.

The veteran blamed PTSD for his drinking. The condition was not immediately diagnosed, as he had a delayed reaction. He is now receiving help.

“PTSD is real,” the veteran said. “We live it every day.”

Chancellor said 42 percent of veterans divorce during or after their tours of duty. Reasons for ending the marriage, he said, include transitioning to civilian life, changes during deployment, and the influence of PTSD.

In some cases, Chancellor said, veterans returning home “do not have someone to talk to.” Also, he said, some veterans would rather open up with other veterans as opposed to their spouse.

Another issue is homelessness. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night.

There is no cure for PTSD, but there are treatments. One treatment, featured on a “60 Minutes” segment, involves a car approach traditionally given to rape or sexual assault victims.

One veteran featured in the television piece lost 17 buddies in the Middle East and turned to alcohol and cocaine.

After serving multiple tours of duty, veterans said the simplest things, including the smell of diesel fuel, could trigger PTSD.

“I hope you find the courage to help yourself,” one veteran said. “If not, you’re killing yourself.”

Despite the lack of a cure for PTSD, social workers said they strive to put people in touch with their feelings.

As still another veteran said, “I know, deep down, things will work out.”

For help with post traumatic stress disorder, contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-877-424-3838 (4AID-VET) or the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

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