I have been going to counseling since the beginning of the year. I started out by doing some one-on-one counseling at the Vet Center in Morgantown. After six weeks or so, she started recommending that I try out group counseling. I decided to give it a try, and started attending the Desert Storm PTSD group. My counselor felt this was a good fit for me because of the similar geographical location of their war and my war.
I definitely saw some great benefits of this group, but quickly hit a wall. It was clear that this group wasn’t a good fit for me, as the majority of the guys in it were from the same unit in Desert Storm and had experienced very different things than I had.
My counselor one day mentioned that she had an idea. She said it might sound odd, but that she thought it might be good. There was a group of Vietnam veterans that met weekly, and she thought I might fit in better with them. She said this group was “the real deal” in terms of combat experience and guys really wanting to get help with PTSD. She said this was the group that had seen some shit, as she put it. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it out, and agreed. I wondered how I was going to fit in with a bunch of 60 and 70 year old guys, though. I’m barely 30.
My very first visit sealed the deal. Each one of these guys shook my hand, gave me a hug, and said “welcome home.” It literally brought tears to my eyes. I was a brother to them, not a punk kid, a young guy that didn’t get it, or some poser trying to fit in. They accepted me as their own from the start and have been a wealth of wisdom since.
My second visit, one of the Vietnam vets pulled me aside after the session and pulled his wallet out. He handed me a crisp $2 bill and said to keep it in my wallet. “No matter how bad things get from here on out, you’ll never be broke” he said to me. I could care less about the money. This is a reminder that there is always someone who cares about me as a brother from combat. These guys have all said, at one point or another, that Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan are the same war, just different time periods. They understand that the enemy is unmarked and that any civilian could turn on you. They completely understand what it’s like to be ambushed and attacked, or to have snipers trying to end your life. This $2 bill is a reminder that many have gone before me and still care to help us today. The stuff these guys have gone through is unreal, yet they sit there and say how terrible they feel for us soldiers today dealing with the stuff we’ve gone through.
They’re old enough to be my grandfather, yet they call me brother.
It’s been great to be a part of this PTSD group and to walk through it with the Vietnam veterans. There is one other Iraq vet in the group with me, and roughly 15 Vietnam vets. We’re a rough around the edges, rowdy bunch, but we’re in it together. We are helping one another process the tragedy of war and reconcile our lives with those that we love. Being able to hear the stories and experiences of these older vets gives me hope. Knowing what I’m doing right now to improve my quality of life while dealing with PTSD is justified in these guys. To not deal with the rage, anger, the low points, the nightmares and hallucinations, and all the other issues that stem from PTSD are risky when not dealt with. It’s dangerous. Some guys give up the fight and give in. That is the worst possible outcome. Through helping myself, I am trying to help my brothers and sisters in arms avoid giving in to all the pressure and stress.
Each week I am strengthened and encouraged by this group of Vietnam veterans. Their resilience, honesty, and transparency is a testament to their strength and courage. I look forward to it each week.