How a Vietnam Veteran overcame PTSD and survivor’s guilt

His message on PTSD Awareness Day, 'Get the help you need'


My Fellow Vets,

I’m a Vietnam Veteran. Like in any war, we had moments of extreme, close encounters and moments of boredom. We came home to a political nightmare where we were hated, spit upon, and called names. I, like many that came home, suffered from Survivor’s Guilt and something that we’d never heard of at the time: PTSD.

We went to Vietnam as soldiers and came home as individuals, so I lost contact from my unit. I never contacted the VA; I had enough of the military. I was young, strong, and independent. I could deal with anything at the time. I went back to school, got a job, got married, began a family with two wonderful kids. I was living the dream but I had a secret that I kept from everyone.

As I aged, my PTSD turned into “flashbacks,” nightmares, and three suicide attempts. The last was the worst. I sat on our kitchen floor at midnight, mad and scared. That’s when I contacted the VA Suicide Hotline and was convinced to go to the VA Hospital. I snuck some clothes from our bedroom. I was going to sneak out, but my wife woke up and demanded to drive me.

My secret was out.

I got the help I needed from VA through the Prolonged Exposure Therapy Program (PE). My family now knows everything. It’s been six years and counting with no flashbacks, nightmares, or suicide attempts. My life and my family’s lives have changed. I believe I came through all this hell for a reason, and that is to help other Veterans who suffer. The suicide rate among all Veterans absolutely scares me, but most troubling is those who were like me: the 70% who don’t have any contact with the VA.

Get the help you need. Do it.

Watch Dave, his family and his therapist explain how Prolonged Exposure Therapy brought him back to a full and happy life.

See how treatment helped Dave enjoy walking in the woods behind his house, something he’d been avoiding for decades.

Go to AboutFace to hear more about PTSD and PTSD Treatment from Veterans who have been there.

Dave Hanson was a sergeant in USAF, Phu Cat AFB, Cobra Flt, Night Ambush Team


VAntagePoint Contributor

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  1. Bill Wilder    

    I’m glad you made a recovery, because you are a hero in my book

  2. Marine Corps Veteran    

    For the most part I’m happy with my VA services. I attended PTSD classes that teach you how to treat your triggers and calm your breathing and heart rate from nightmares or people in general pissing me off. Everyone on the medical staff has treated me with respect, except my Psychologist who I was hoping to have routine visits. In her words, she said, “Contact me when you feel like killing yourself!” I felt she was there just to collect her paycheck, and insensitive to my needs. My wife and Primary Physician are my support system, plus the VA has me on Citalopram Hydrobromide. Now I’m dealing and trying to get used to a new issue CPAP.

  3. Dan Karsip    

    This country has a history of failing to support the military.
    My overarching concerns about the VA’s disability policies are that they are countertherapeutic and harmful to veterans’ recovery efforts and lead to misallocation of resources.

  4. Gary Plep, LCSW    

    EMDR therapy has been highly effective for my PTSD. I took the training and have found it highly effective for my patients. Why doesn’t the VA offer EMDR? No one can give me an answer.

  5. K Schenker    

    Get over it. Be happy you survived, from a 91b20
    Army Medic. 69-70
    WIA 5/15/70, RBK amputee
    When I start feeling sorry for myself I think of
    My KIA friends who never had a chance to have
    A family or a meaningful life. There it is!

  6. Karen Emanuelson    

    When I first went to the VA for help, my experience wasn’t good. I was made to feel like a scumbag, liar and loser. Just like civilians always treated soldiers. Post 9-11, everything has changed. I hear “thank you for your service” from everyone & the folks at the VA are nice to me. A lot of veterans work there now. I love my PCM, she is such a good lady. The problem lies with wait time for appointments and availability of treatment. We have a nice new VA in town, but they have limited capabilities & too often, we must make the long, harrowing trip to the larger VA facility. One more comment on a good person at the local VA: I was in tears when I spoke to a lady in psych & we discussed some screening I hadn’t had done in decades because of anxiety & fear, due to my trauma. She told me that if I could schedule the screening on her DAY OFF, she would be there to hold my hand if it would help. I’d never had anyone offer that level of support & just knowing that she had my back, gave me the courage to get the screening done. Some of the folks at the VA are the best of the best that humanity has to offer. Now, when I meet homeless veterans, or veterans who are struggling, I tell them to go to the VA, because it’s so much better than it used to be.

  7. Keith williams    

    I’ve just realized that I have survivors guilt. I really didn’t even know that there was such a thing. I’m going to see a counselor next week about it. I’ve been depressed for years, but I didn’t know why. Now I know.
    How common is it with Nam vets?

  8. Marvin lipps    

    Sam Mullins I agree with you 100%

  9. Pat Pilcher    

    I too came back to the world and tried to avoid anything About the war. I denied something was broken inside me but Frank heavily for twenty years before my life began to collapse and I realized I needed help. I saw a VA therapist for two years, quite drinking and have now been married for 30 years and thank the V A for helping me get my life back. Don’t despair and seek help!

  10. Wayne L. Jones    

    I went to the VA for counselling three times, on the 3rd time I went in, they were full, come back some other time. I understand that, there is a lot of us around, I won’t go back. Having to talk to a young person about your Demons, just hard to relate to. I am 72, Vietnam 68/69, from camp Evans to Bear Cat, and in-between. Every so often I get, you remember this, comes across my mind. Just a wake up reminder that I was once in Hell and not any more, it has its place I suppose. I still get a nightmare every so often. I have had so many nightmares in the past they got to be repetitious, lost their bite a little. In Vietnam I gave up hope of going home and when I got home I didn’t think I could go on, but I did and I am ok now. I work with soldiers now at a fort in Oklahoma, so young and emotionally not ready for a place like Vietnam. WLJ

  11. Richard G McHenry    

    I also was in combat in Vietnam as a Marine Officer. I also have PTSD. A couple of questions; First, it is stated that he was in the Air Force. When were they in actual ground combat? Perhaps this is a mistake and he was in the Army. Second, viewers of the video were to hear family members and a therapist interviewed…didn’t happen.

  12. Charles Jeffries    

    I came home to the same feelings about the war we fought because our country asked of us
    Had the same symptoms as most, alcohol abuse,failed relationships, flashbacks, couldn’t sleep
    and of course guilt and regrets. I got help thru the VA but the most help came from my relationship with my wife and the Lord Jesus Christ. I was in my 60s when I got help so no matter the age get help.
    It’s never to late

  13. Richard G kensinger    

    as a clinical psychologist and a AF ER medic during Vietnam I study combat trauma among vet combatants. In addition to the above maladies, I also find compacted grief due to the number of deaths and destruction which occur in combat.
    I fully support clinical interventions!

  14. Jim Cargill    

    Samuel, maybe that is true where you live, but not where I live, or most veterans. The VA cares greatly for us. They want us to be healthy and happy. No, it has not always been that way, but it is getting better and better. You sound like someone who either tried to get help quite some time ago, or has never tried. Don’t listen to stories from those who hate the VA, it only makes you feel worse. Give the VA a try, and go in with an open mind.

  15. Crayton Morris    

    I am so glad and appreciative in reading Dave Hanson’s “story”. My “story” is almost identical to his. I am presently going to the VA vet center every two weeks and see a therapist who has saved my life. (I was a helicopter pilot in VN and kept everything hidden since 1967.)
    No matter who, what or where please call and make an appointment!!

  16. Samuel James Mullins    

    Guess you did not like my comment

  17. Ralph Lee Ragsdale    

    Visit a national cemetery. Walk through look at all those markers. Contact surviving family members.
    Ask them how they viewed an coped with the loss.

    I visit the Quantico Virginia national cemetery several times a year. I fell better knowing that I can leave my thoughts and prayers among those honored dead.

    I was a Marine in a divided country. In a unjust war.
    I hated what I was. Lots of suicidal thoughts.

  18. Samuel James Mullins    

    VA does not care. They help some, but most go untreated. The politicians talk a good story, but most have never been in a war.

    1. Jessynaija    

      Broo, VA is trying, they can’t treat everyone. They are doing very well.

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