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Refuge for All Kinds of War Travails
Many veterans don't connect with veteran resources, doubting that their war experience counts, but they misunderstand, as Everett Cox learned belatedly.
By Everett Cox
I remember when the Middletown Vet Center first opened in 2008. I read about it in the Times Herald Record. I thought, thank goodness there is finally some help for those poor devils. The poor devils were combat veterans from the Vietnam War, and the help was dealing with PTSD and suicide.
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a diagnosis that entered the medical books in 1980. Before that, there were many other labels thrown about: manic-depressive, paranoid, schizophrenic. Symptoms overlapped. Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, drug abuse, extreme risk taking, acute anxiety, chronic depression, isolating, difficulty trusting others, suicidality and more.
How do you come home from war if you carry the war inside you? If you bring it into your marriage, family and work? How can you speak about the unspeakable? How do you talk about the madness of war if you do not trust yourself or others?
Vet Centers were established in 1979. Vietnam War veterans were going crazy, getting addicted, becoming homeless, going off to prison, killing themselves. They were widely shunned and despised by their fellow Americans, called Baby Killers and spit upon.
I didn’t consider myself a vet in 2008. Not a real vet. Certainly not a combat vet. That confusion kept me from going to a Vet Center until 2012. It was 42 years after my return from Vietnam. It saved my life.
I met a counselor from the Brooklyn Vet Center. “How are you doing?” he asked me. I’m OK, I said, but I can’t stop thinking about suicide. He took out his phone and gave me the name and number of a counselor at the Middletown Vet Center. But I’m not a combat vet, I told him. “You served in a war zone”, he answered. “The Vet Center is there for you.”
“Rockets and mortars are not combat?” my counselor asked. That’s right, I said. Combat is looking down the barrel of your rifle, pulling the trigger and killing another human being. I did not do that. I was combat support. My work was with aerial cameras. I lived on a big airbase, Marble Mountain, near Da Nang. Yes, there were random rocket and mortar attacks. They came in the middle of the night. They were terrifying and deadly. I learned years later they were called harassment attacks. Their purpose was to create anxiety and depression, as much as death and injury. And they did. At Marble Mountain there would be explosions, screaming, smoke, dust, chaos. The sirens would go off. A mad dash to the bunkers would follow. Then quiet. We put our flak vests and helmets on, took rifles in hand and went off to the perimeter. To wait and wait. But it was over. No more rockets. No ground assault.
It got on my nerves. I had a breakdown. I attributed it to weakness. Thought it was my fault. I was not strong enough. I was not a good soldier. Fell into depression. Was suicidal. Couldn’t talk about it. Smoked pot. Heroin too. Nightmares took over my sleep. They would go on for decades. There was more war in my sleep than I experienced in Vietnam. I couldn’t hold a job. Had a broken marriage and family. Alcoholism. Suicide attempts. One year after Vietnam I was diagnosed as incurably insane.
Time may never heal PTSD, and there may be a delayed onset of symptoms. The Vet Center motto is “Keeping the Promise”. That’s a tough one. All vets know about broken promises. But there is a big difference between suffering in silence – secrets will make you sick – and sharing your story. Vet Centers were set up under the authority of the Veterans Administration . But there is confidentiality and privacy not found elsewhere. What is said at a Vet Center stays at the Vet Center. Eligibility is service in a war zone. There is also counseling for Military Sexual Trauma. It can be private or in a group. It is also available for couples and families. Hours are flexible. Referrals for medical, benefits, employment and more is available. Counseling is free.
The Middletown Vet Center is located at 726 East Main Street, Suite 203. The phone number is 845-342-9917. Here is a link to their website. Middletown Vet Center | Veterans Affairs (va.gov) and the national listing, Vet Centers (Readjustment Counseling) Home (va.gov)
The Middletown Vet Center has community outstations in Milford, PA, Port Jervis and Monticello. All can be reached through the main number in Middletown. The counties served are Orange, Sullivan, Duchess, Putnam and Pike.
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