After returning home from the Vietnam War, Tom began experiencing anxiety and depression, so he visited the local VA medical center. The psychologist attributed Tom’s condition to the all-too-common emotions experienced by combat Veterans.
Dismayed, Tom sought help from community counselors, but they, too, made a similar diagnosis.
Tom was experiencing the classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition not discussed in 1975. How then could medical staff prescribe him the proper treatment?
“They were good people who treated the anxiety and depression without focusing on the PTSD. It just wasn’t their thing, and I didn’t know how to talk about it—common for vets,” recalls Tom.
Tom’s condition was not debilitating, however. He became a loving husband and father, a college graduate, a professional speaker, a successful businessman and an acclaimed author, but he was still haunted by Vietnam.
The sleepless nights and the panic attacks were the “not-so-subtle reminders that I had unfinished business,” recalls Tom.
Tom attended the occasional therapy throughout the years. He even self-medicated by using alcohol to cope with the pain.
After retiring from public speaking, Tom became more proactive about his mental health. He began treatment at the Jefferson Barracks Division of the VA St. Louis Health Care System, where a civilian counselor referred him to the senior Veterans clinic. A nurse practitioner at the clinic encouraged him to seek help from the St. Louis Vet Center. After 45 years, Tom’s long and frustrating journey was finally coming to an end.
The Vet Center, a community-based counseling center, offers a wide range of social and psychological services including professional readjustment counseling. Vet Center counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma.
Tom felt an immediate sense of belonging and respect at the Vet Center. Now he was among a group who truly understood the trauma of war. The weekly counseling sessions allowed him to find closure from his wartime experiences, such as comrades who were left behind and jobs that were left unfinished.
“The Vet Center allowed me tie up loose ends. It provided me context for understanding PTSD. It did not excuse the bad decisions that I made, but it has provided a context of why,” said Tom.
Through his counseling sessions, he was now able to understand that hurting is a normal part of being human. The Vet Center gave him a sense of clarity about these feelings. No longer did he carry the baggage of Vietnam.
“They are doing God’s work,” said Tom. “They get it. It’s Vets helping other Vets.”
Tom used his love of writing and his educational background (graduate degree) in psychology to help other Vets. The St. Louis Vet Center had no established writing program, so he began meeting with a small group of Veterans at the local library. During the weekly writing workshops, they would write two pieces and share their work with the group. Their candid, and sometimes raw, perspectives provided an “emotional outlet for creative freedom.”
Tom’s credits the outreach from the St. Louis Vet Center and the writing workshops as the inspiration for his latest novel, Hope in the Shadows. In this fictional piece, Timothy O’Rourke, the protagonist, grapples with PTSD and the paradox of war.
About VA’s Vet Centers: Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers that provide a wide range of social and psychological services including professional readjustment counseling. Readjustment counseling at Vet Centers is offered to Veterans, active duty service members and their families to make a successful transition from military to civilian life or after a traumatic event experienced in the military. Individual, group, marriage and family counseling is offered in addition to referral and connection to other VA or community benefits and services. Veterans Center counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma. To find out more information, or to take the next step in seeking help, call 1-877-WAR-VETS (927-8387).