I’ve just spent the last several days with the HelpForMyLife editing team working through the videos we shot two weeks ago dealing with the issue of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Wow! Talk about an intense topic.
This production has been especially tough, and yet so good. I’ve had the honor of working with two veterans and their wives who graciously invited us into their lives and shared their stories of struggle with PTSD and how it has impacted their lives.
Phil and Susy Downer hail from Chattanooga, TN. Phil is a Vietnam Vet who served a 13-month tour in Nam as a machine gunner with the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. Phil’s unit was involved in some of the heaviest combat of the war. Some of the most horrific events of the war for him involved two major search and destroy missions, one in which his unit was ambushed by the enemy and in 90 seconds, 20% of the men in his unit were either dead or wounded.
Phil came home to a country that was less than appreciative of his and his unit’s efforts to serve faithfully. And the wounds they’d suffered and the sacrifices that they’d made, well, let’s just say that they were virtually ignored and discounted, leaving them in what Phil describes as “a pool of pain.” He met and married Susy and they began their lives together. But they soon discovered that the war didn’t stay 9,000 miles away in Southeast Asia. Unknowingly, Phil had brought the anger, fear, distrust, hyper-vigilance, guilt, shame, nightmares, flashbacks, and memories back home with him . And no matter how hard he tried to drowned out the screams, the smells, and the memories of war by all of his successes and achievements, none of it was enough to heal the war within his soul. And it just about destroyed his marriage with Susy.
Lt. Col. Dan Nigolian and his wife Kathy flew in from Colorado Springs, where they currently reside since Dan retired 9 months ago from a 26-year career in the Air Force as a chaplain. Dan was the senior chaplain on 5 combat deployments throughout his career. Three were special ops deployments, one was in Iraq, and his last was in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was the senior ranking chaplain of all NATO forces.
It wasn’t until he was going through his requisite retirement interviews that it was recommended to Dan that he be evaluated for PTSD. And although he initially shrugged it off saying, “No, I’m fine,” he consented to the tests at the request of Kathy who knew something was up. Given his 5 combat deployments, during which he was shot down in an airplane and later blown up in a convoy outside of Kabul, it was no mistake that war had taken its toll on Dan. He was diagnosed with moderate to severe PTSD, moderate traumatic brain injury, and severe depression. The experiences of war had etched permanent marks on his heart, soul, body, and mind that he and Kathy are currently in the process of working through.
These are the people that I’ve had the privilege of work with on this series. They poured out their hearts because they have and are experiencing healing from the war within that came home with them. While it’s never gone, it can be redeemed. What I learned from them is that although war trauma (or any trauma for that matter) inflicts invisible wounds on the human soul that are impossible to erase, there is a Wounded Healer who sacrificed Himself so that “by His wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
These two couples echo a message of hope for the 1.8 million men and women in uniform who are coming home from war. War will change you. You can’t experience the horrors of war and not have it impact you. You need a safe place to talk about your experiences, what you felt then when you were deployed, and what you are wrestling with since you’ve come home. And, as Dan would say, “you need buddy care when you’re over there, and you need buddy care when you come home.”
So, if you or a loved one you know is struggling with symptoms of PTSD, check out our HelpForMyLife.org website later in May 2010 (within the next 2 weeks) for the release of the new series on PTSD. Our sister ministry, Day of Discovery, has also produced a 4-part documentary that will begin airing on the Ion cable network starting May 23, 2010. Tune in as Phil Downer and Dr. Mike Wilkins return to Vietnam for the first time since the war and tell their stories of horror, hope, and healing through PTSD.