I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I do not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What I have is an accurate appreciation of the human condition. I did, however, gain this appreciation after (post) a period of intense traumatic stress, which, for some years led me to live a disordered life.
The reasons I do not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are that I devoted nine years after Vietnam to writing a book about my experiences, and that largely succeeded in getting them out of my head. Also I have done a lot of spiritual work in several disciplines, and been helped by some superb teachers and healers. Mostly I am a happy guy, more so than average I should say.
But awhile back a friend who derives a significant portion of his income from his PTSD disability convinced me that I could pick up a pretty good paycheck if I claimed one. I checked, and he was right.
All I would have to do is tell a shrink what I went through in Vietnam, and volunteer to flagellate myself in group therapy sessions, led by one of these dweebs, in the company of other whiners, and I could make a small fortune.
So I started going over what I would tell the shrink. In less than twenty minutes I went from feeling fine, better than fine, to being suicidal.
To be convincing here I will detail a few of the milder incidents. One was seeing a photo of the body of a friend after it had lain on the jungle floor for four days before they found his and his comrades’ bodies. In life he had been a handsome guy, but not swollen like that and oozing noxious gases.
Another time I stood beside a dying Viet Cong company commander, watching his life ooze and bubble out of his chest through a half dozen bullet holes, while I stood there and went through his wallet, looking at his family pictures, handing his money out to my Montagnard troops.
But the worst was standing by a helipad while a huey made four runs to bring back the bodies of the dependents of one of our Montagnard companies. It had been in a convoy that was ambushed as it was taking them to rejoin their husbands and fathers. Thirty-four bodies of women and kids, and I had had dinner in the home of one of those families the week before. That was not my best day.
And, oh yeah, I killed, or bear responsibility for leading the guys who did, thirty-one people, all of whom were trying to kill us at the time, and got shot four times in the process.
But all of that was a walk in the park compared to coming home. There is nothing quite so demoralizing as putting your lilly-white, brown, or black ass on the line for a bunch of people who, when you come home, hate you for it. It took me a while to deal with that. I finally decided that these folks just didn’t get it. They thought that if everybody was nice, then everybody else would be nice too, and everything would just be nice. That is to say that these were people who had never been anywhere or seen anything. But they are nice people, and I don’t want to hold a grudge.
I have also forgiven the Vietnamese for torturing one of my best friends to death in a re-education camp, and for burying the mother of another of my Montagnard friends alive, this one for having entertained President Lyndon B. Johnson in her home, a Montagnard longhouse. They did, however, let her select her best outfit for the execution.
After all, the Vietnamese have their story too, and it is rather more horrendous than mine.
But I will say that if the worst lies that were told about the American troops in Vietnam were true, which they weren’t, we would still have been the good guys by a wide margin.
Anyway, I’ve dealt with all that, and I won’t go there again, not even for a large sum of money from the VA. That’s why I say I don’t have PTSD. It wouldn’t be hard to find if I wanted to, but I do not plan to go there again.