June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Month: Area Vietnam Veteran shares his experience with PTSD

by Dwight Jones

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event at some point in their lives. After the event, up to and including years or decades later, an individual dealing with PTSD can experience panic when reminded of the trauma, or become easily upset or angry, experience poor sleep, struggle with concentration, etc. from the underlying PTSD.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. Each year on June 27, National PTSD Awareness Day recognizes the effects post-traumatic stress has on the lives of those impacted by it. Locally, a PTSD awareness walk is scheduled for this Saturday, June 24 in Waukon. Look for details on the walk within a separate article adjacent to this one on this same page.

PTSD can originate from any form of trauma, be it assault, rape, abuse, personal experience and countless other life events. Jim Rush, a lifetime Waukon area resident and Vietnam War Veteran, recently took the time to describe his experience with the PTSD he has lived with ever since his service in that war.

Jim was a senior in high school in the summer of 1967, and the Vietnam War was raging. Jim felt that getting drafted was imminent, and rather than being told what his future would hold, he made the decision to join the Navy. “Join the Navy, see the world” is how he described his thought process.

When deciding on his ideal position within the Navy, a recruiter talked him into becoming a Navy Hospital Corpsman. Jim graduated from high school in May 1967, and the day after turning 18 years old, he left for boot camp.

What the recruiter failed to tell Jim was that the Navy supplied medical support for the Marine Corps, and a year later he found himself in Vietnam fighting the war alongside fellow soldiers. He said within a month - a month and a half at most - he and most around him realized that they were fighting a war they were never going to win. It went downhill from there.

To listen to Jim tell his stories in vivid detail of being right in the middle of a war gave this writer chills, and maybe sometime down the road Jim would be willing to share some of those stories. One story involves getting shot by a sniper in August 1969. After recovery, the following year Jim found himself right back in Saigon where he would serve until his military duties had ended and he returned home.

Ironically, after three years and nine-and-a-half months in the Navy, Jim had never set foot on a ship. So much for seeing the world.

Jim explained coming back to a country that he was always proud to call home, only to find that he and his military brothers felt somewhere between unappreciated and forgotten. His mother was the only person that told him she was proud of him. He believed his father was proud, but he never heard him say it.

Over time, the memories of the men he knew that were severely injured or killed came to wear on him. He chose to not talk about it, but they were always there, and still are. “I think I covered it up pretty well”, Jim said, but the “I wonder if I had done this or that, could I have saved one of them” thoughts are ever existent in his mind.

There are triggers that will bring it all back in an instant, and Jim explains that when this happens, in his mind he’s right back there, a teenage boy from rural Rossville trudging through a rice field in Vietnam beside men he loved and knowing with absolute certainty that many of them would not make it home, and also wondering what his own fate would be. Thus is the life of someone with PTSD.

Jim says it’s happened literally millions of times, this second guessing and graphic memories and asking himself “what more could I have done, how could I have saved him, should I have done more?” These are questions he’s never found answers for and Jim has come to the realization that these memories and scenarios are something he will deal with as long as he lives.

Throughout his life, Jim has tried different therapists and counselors with limited success. He is currently seeing a psychologist in Iowa City to try and help work through it all. He also openly admits that he leans on Budweiser to help self-medicate. Always has. A man does what a man has to do.

Father Time has not been necessarily kind to Jim in other ways as well, including eyesight and hearing that often fail him, but he describes still taking walks in the woods at night, “the darker the better,” he says, and though he really has no reason to be, when he’s out there he is totally comfortable, and the darkness “feels like a blanket,” and the memories and “what ifs” hit pause, but only for a while.

Jim has had many people ask him if he’s ever contemplated suicide to finally put an end to it all, and he said that he considers himself “one of the lucky ones”, and says it would be a dishonor to all of those that never made it back to do such a thing, as they would all undoubtedly trade places with him, no matter what the PTSD has to offer.

If you or someone you know would like more information on PTSD, please talk with your doctor, or there are many other options available at the local, state and national levels, many involving Veterans Affairs offices. The Allamakee County Veterans Services Office is located in the Allamakee County Courthouse at 110 Allamakee Street in Waukon. The office can be reached by telephone at 563-568-6135. Additional information about PTSD, and resources for assistance can be found online at https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp.