PTSD information: Please sc roll all the way to the bottom of the page to view ALL items, including sample stressor letters!
Information on Obtaining Benefits for PTSD
Gary J, Chenett
828 Rue Royal Street New Orleans, Louisiana70116 504-595-8949 email email@example.com
RECEIVING DISABILITY FOR PTSD
There are two basic steps to receive a disability from the Veterans Administration for PTSD. The first step is filing a claim with the VA for PTSD. The second, and most Important, is submitting a stressor letter. Most combat veterans do not trust the government or the VA. This is understandable considering the treatment most veterans received during and after the Vietnam War. But the VA has improved in most places, and the benefits are there for the combat veterans. The VA does not go looking for the combat veteran with PTSD. You mush push aside any bad feelings and make the effort to receive the earned benefits.
FILING A CLAIM
As ridiculous at It may seem, ail combat veterans must not only prove that they were In combat, they must also prove that they were In the military. This process screens out the phony combat veterans. It is surprising how many combat veterans have surfaced who were on top secret missions, and of course, there is no record of their even being in the military because their missions were so secret.
You can file a claim on your own, but there are several veteran’s organizations who will represent you on a disability claim. The best of these is probably the American Veterans (AMVETS), since their primary purpose Is helping the veterans file claims for disability. It you do not have an AMVETS office in your area where you can meet with a service officer, you can call the nearest AMVETS office and tell them you want to file a claim for disability. The AMVETS, will send you a power of attorney. You sign this paper and send it back through the mail. This gives the AMVETS your permission to represent you in your claim. The AMVETS opens your claim and forwards it to the VA regional office in your area. Opening the claim is actually a simple process.
THE STRESSOR LETTER
This is the single most important factor In obtaining disability for the combat veteran. After your claim has been filed, usually within 30 to 60 days, you will receive a letter from the VA stating that they have received your claim for PTSD. Then you will be asked to submit a stressor letter. This is a written record of combat experiences which you felt were life threatening or have caused you to display symptoms of PTSD. They will also note that they understand how difficult this can be for some veterans (thinking about war experiences and writing them down). And for many this is difficult. Some can't write well. Some are to terrified to think in detail about their war experience.
Chances are the average veteran cannot write a stressor letter that will pass the rating board. Once a stressor letter has been rejected by the rating board, the process to receive disability can be long and discouraging. Many veterans give up and never receive the disability they deserve. The VA will tell-you how to write the letter or what details to include. If the letter is rejected, many combat veterans will give up before appealing the rating board decision. So a veteran must submit a solid stressor letter to pass the rating board. This is my area of expertise. I know what to put in the letter and how to present it so that the rating board will grant any where from 10% to 50% disability just from your stressor letter without rejection and VA appeal hearings. It will be impossible to receive a 100% rating from a stressor letter, but once the VA agrees you are disabled, you can appeal for a higher percentage.
PTSD IS A RECOGNIZED DISORDER WHICH DOES NOT GO AWAY. THE REACTIONS TO COMBAT STRESS OFTEN BECOMES A PERMANENT PART OF THE VETERAN'S PERSONALITY.
WHAT COMES NEXT: THE COMP EXAM
At some point after you file for disability, either before or after you have submitted your stressor letter, you will receive a letter asking you to come to the nearest VA Hospital in your area for a Compensation Examination. This just means that you are going to speak to a VA psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will ask you many questions about your background (including your childhood and current social life) and your war service. The meeting with the doctor will probably last anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. The VA will also reimburse you with a small travel allowance for coming.
You must show up for this comp exam. If for some reason you can't make it, then call the VA and they will schedule you again. Most of all, relax. This psychiatrist is not your enemy, and it is his or her job to send a report to the VA regional office as to whether you show symptoms of PTSD. The psychiatrist Is Impartial. If you show symptoms of PTSD, it will be reported without any favor toward the VA. So relax and answer questions to the best of your knowledge. Always stress the negative side of your life...never the positive. Just like at the close of the stressor letter. You can do this and still tell the truth just by avoiding the positive. Here are some things not to say at a Comp Exam.
1. My life is okay. Ifs not or you wouldn't be there.
2. I sometimes hear voices. Hearing voices can lead to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and your PTSD claim may be rejected.
3. I am happily married. It has often been decided that having PTSD automatically means an unhappy marriage. It can but not always.
4. I love my job. I have been there twenty years. If you have managed to keep one job, it may be determined that you interact normally and do not have PTSD. You can have one job and still be miserable. It's a matter of survival.
5. Ihave lots of friends. Never admit you have lots of friends. Chances are you don't anyway. At least, not like the friends you made in combat situations who you can trust with your life.
6. Don't threaten the doctor. Some veterans scream, yell, and threaten to kill the doctor in an attempt to show symptoms of PTSD. 99% of the time this is an act and won't help your claim.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A STRESSOR LETTER
1. Name, Rank. Service Number, Dates of Time in War Zone:
Make sure your current correct address and claim number are at the top of your stressor letter. Begin by re-stating your name, rank, and service number. Then begin with your war service. Do not mention time spent in the United Slates. Many veterans ramble on about stateside service, and this has nothing to do with combat stress, if your MOS or specialty was something other than combat related (supply, motor transport, ate.) but you did not serve in your MOS or specialty, mention it here because the VA will turn you down unless you prove you were in combat If you were in Special Forces or Recon, etc., don't go into any detail about stateside training.
2. Were you wounded?:
If you were wounded Include dates, If possible, and number of times wounded. This refers only to wounds which ware treated by medics, corpsmen, or doctors for which you received a purple heart and are a matter of record. If you have malaria or any type malaria fever and were treated for it, mention it also, if you believe it may be in your records.
3. If you killed the enemy:
Include the times you actually saw the enemy and killed them. Be specific if possible. Don't say something like (my outfit killed 53 NVA in the fire fight). This is too general. State what you were doing when the enemy was killed and how it affected you. (I kept firing and I could see them falling as they ran toward us).
4. If you saw Americans die:
Most combat vets lost close friends in combat. For some vets remembering names is difficult, but this will definitely help your claim if you can remember the approximate date and names of men in your outfit killed while you were there. Ifsomeone killed was your best friend, mention it and how it affected you. The names will be checked by the VA against KIA lists. If friends were wounded bad enough to be shipped home, you may mention this and include their names if possible. (This is all verification that you were in combat. Try to use real names instead of nicknames at all times).
5. If you saw civilian dead:
In villages, the jungle, or other places. This was traumatic to many combat troops, especially if they had to handle the bodies. Seeing dead children often has long range effects on combat vets, particularly if the children or civilians were killed during fire fights or mistaken for the enemy.
6. If you were on body detail:
Or if you otherwise handled the bodies of dead Americans, either in the field or in the rear where the bodies were stripped for shipment home. This often causes extreme trauma to those who handled the bodies.
7. Times you did not think you would survive:
Incidents when you thought you would not be alive the next day help with a PTSD claim. When you had given up hope and thought for sure you would be killedwith no chance of survival. (Describe in detail).
8. All incidents of combat:
Small arms fire, fire fights, mortar and rocket attacks, booby traps, mines, artillery, etc. Each time you were in a life threatening situation whether you were able to return fire or not. (Walking through mine fields, walking point, etc.)
9. Names of operations or search and destroy:
Remembering names of specific field operations and sweeps can often be helpful because the military often left much Information out of service records. Some combat troops have very complete service records. Others have had their records lost or destroyed, or Information was never entered. Any Information you can remember about field operations Is verification of combat role.
10. How your life has changed because of the war:
State your problems today because of your war service. Divorce, substance abuse, nightmares, paranoia, trouble holding jobs, lack of feeling, etc. If you have been in therapy or other treatment, mention this. Stress the negative side of your life. Mention nothing good that has happened to you. Don’t say you get along great with people and you are happy most of the lime. Stress that life is a constant struggle due to your combat service, (You used to love fireworks but now when you hear them you hit the ground. You used to love to go to sporting events but now you can't cope with being in crowds, etc.)
NOTE: These ten points will help you write a stressor letter which will have a good chance of passing the VA rating board. When writing about combat, write how it affected you personally. Don't write stuff like…(We sat around and ate dinner and then the sergeant told us a story about his wife and then Joe tried to steal my bean and wieners). Too many vets go in to detail which Is not important. Begin each segment of combat with the combat and how it affected you. (You were scared. You thought you were going to die, etc.). Many veterans are afraid to mention certain situations when they killed people for fear of charges being brought against them. This will not happen. Killings during combat are for survival. The government would have to prove you killed on purpose without just cause, and in the case of enemy troops and civilians, this is not possible.
Many of these ten points overlap with each other. You must try to put them in some kind of order. Think about what you want to say for a few weeks before writing it down. Then try to arrange your thoughts in some kind of order. The best solution is to be brief and to the point. This is difficult for many veterans, which is why so many veterans with PTSD never follow through with a claim. The best average length for a stressor letter is not more than four pages single-spaced.
Neurotic symptoms which may somewhat adversely affect relationships with others but which do not cause impairment of working ability.
The psychoneurotic disorder produces mild social and Industrial Impairment.
The symptoms result in such reduction in Initiative, flexibility, efficiency, and reliability levels as to produce definite Industrial Impairment There will be definite impairment in the ability to establish or maintain effective and wholesome relationships with people.
The veteran’s ability to establish or maintain effective or favorable relationships with people is considerably impaired. By reason of psychoneurotic symptoms the reliability, flexibility, and efficiency levels are so reduced as to result in considerable industrial Impairment.
The disability severely impairs the veteran’s ability to establish and maintain effective or favorable relationships with people. The psychoneurotic symptoms are of such severity and persistence that there is severe impairment in the ability to obtain and retain employment.
The attitudes of all contacts except the most Intimate are so adversely affected as to result in virtual isolation in the community. Total Incapacitating psychoneurotic symptoms bordering on gross repudiation of reality with disturbed thought or behavioral processes associated with almost all daily activities such as fantasy, confusion, panic, and explosions of aggressive energy resulting in profound retreat from mature behavior will be present. He or she will be demonstrably unable to obtain or retain employment
Superior functioning in awide range of activities. Life's problems never seem to get out of hand, is sought out by others becauseof his or her manypositive qualities. No symptoms.
Absent or minimum symptoms (e.g. mild anxiety before an exam), goodfunctioning in all areas,interested and involved in a wide range of activities, socially effective, generally satisfied withlife, no more than everydayproblems or concerns("e.g.. an occasional argument with family members).
If symptoms are present, they are transient and expectable reactions to psychosocial stressors(e.g., difficulty concentrating after family argument); no more than slight impairment in social,occupational, or school functioning(e.g… temporarily failing behind in schoolwork).
Some mild symptoms (e.g., depressed mood and mild insomnia) OR somedifficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning(e.g., occasional truancy, or theft within the household), but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships.
Moderate symptoms (e.g.. flat affect and circumstantial speech, occasional panic attacks) OR moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., few friends, conflicts with peers or co-workers).
Serious symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifting) OR any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning(e.g., no friends, unable to keep a job).
Some impairment in reality testing or communication (e.g... speech is at times illogical, obscure, or irrelevant) OR major impairment in several areas, suchas work or school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood(e.g… depressed man avoids friends, neglects family, and is unable to work: child frequently beats up younger children. Is defiant at home, and is failing at school).
Behavior is considerably influenced by delusions or hallucinations OR serious impairment in communication or judgment (e.g., sometimes incoherent, acts grossly inappropriately, suicidal preoccupation) OR inability to function in almost all areas.(e.g… staysinbed all day; no job, home, or friends).
Some danger of hurting self or others (e.g., suicide attempts without clear expectation of death, frequency violent; manic excitement) OR occasionally fails to maintain minimal personal hygiene(e.g… smearsfeces) OR grossimpairment in communication (e.g., largely incoherent or mute.)
Persistent danger of severely hurting self or others. (e.g… recurrent violence) OR recurrent inability to maintain minimal personal hygiene OR Serious suicidal act with clear expectation of death.
EXAMPLE STRESSOR LETTERS
A Stressor Letter is used by Veterans Affairs (VA) raters to identify potential traumatic events that may have invoked Posttraumatic Stressor Disorder(PTSD) symptoms in combat veterans. The Stressor Letter consist of three vital parts: 1. Life before military service; 2. Life during military service (to include traumatic event(s); and 3. Life after traumatic event(s).
The Example Stressor Letter below has been used by thousands of veterans as supportive evidence for their PTSD claim. Use if for yours (modify as needed).
LIFE BEFORE MILITARY SERVICE
I was born on March 10, 1949, in Columbus, Ohio. I am the second of four children born to my biological parents. My childhood seemed normal and carefree to me. In elementary school I performed well academically, joined a few school clubs, and participated in the Boy Scouts. I had a few close friends during that time, and we spent much of our time playing many different sports. I also had a few hobbies during those formative years. For instance, I collected baseball cards, and toy soldiers. I was never sick, never had any broken bones, and was pretty much healthy. I remember my mother being very protective of me. She always made sure I was safe and not surrounded by trouble. It all seemed pretty normal to me.
During high school I was actively involved in athletics. Football, baseball and basketball consumed a lot of my time. I also discovered girls, and along with my friends we would do a lot in order to impress them. For example, when I got my driver’s license I would borrow my parents car so that I could cruise the neighborhood so that the girls would see me driving. Also, during this time I expressed a lot of interest in the Armed Forces, especially the Marine Corps. I loved the uniforms and the girls seemed to like them as well. I was young and impressionable. My thinking was at the time, if I could join the Marine Corps it would be easy to capture girls. They seemed to like the uniform a lot. My senior year in high school I met with a Marine Corps recruiter who pointed out all of the positive aspects of the Marine Corps. I was hooked. When I graduated from high school in May of 1967, I joined the Marine Corps two months later.
LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE
In August 1967, I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a means of seeking gainful employment, fighting
for my country, and impressing the girls. I completed boot camp at Camp Lejeune, N.C. I thought boot camp was pretty easy. I was always physically fit, did well academically in school, so boot camp was easier than I anticipated. I made squad leader the first week I was there. After boot camp I attended Advanced Infantry Training (AIT). After six weeks of AIT I was a lean mean fighting machine. I was ready for anything. After AIT, I got orders to Vietnam. I arrived in Vietnam in January 1968. When I got there my initial impression was complete shock. The place smelled bad, looked bad, and seemed dirty. After processing in, I was assigned to 1/9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As soon as I got settled in a grisly old gunnery sergeant made it a point to tell me I would never see the states again. I didn’t let him know at the time, but that scared the heck out of me. After only two weeks in country I witnessed the horrors of war.
January 1968, while serving guard duty, my forward base camp was mortared by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Mortars were dropping in everywhere. The sound was loud and the smell was horrible. A machine gunner about 10 yards away from me was hit on the left shoulder. The mortar blew off the entire left side of his body. I tried to administer first aid, but he died almost immediately. After the mortar attack stopped, I remember sitting in the bunker shaking badly for about 30 minutes. I couldn’t get the images out of my head of seeing my comrades killed.
February 1968, during a search and destroy mission in the jungle my unit came across three dead American soldiers. They were nailed to a tree, their ears had been cut off, and all of them had mud stuffed down their throats. The sight was horrible. We took them down and properly bagged them up and sent them to the morgue. The smell of their rotting flesh was awful. I didn’t sleep well for three weeks after that incident.
April 1968, during a search and destroy mission my unit was involved in a very intense firefight. We lost two guys in our unit. I just ended my pointman duties when the firefight started. The guy that replaced me was hit in the face by a few rounds. He died instantly. Another guy was hit in the chest and died as well. Several other members of our unit were wounded pretty bad. I’m not sure how I survived, but I did. In fact, I didn’t get a scratch. But, I was terrified. I had a few horrible dreams about the incident that night and days later. Of course, being the Marine I thought I was, I didn’t tell anyone.
July 1968, me and my unit went on night patrol duty near a delta outside of Da Nang. Two hours into our patrol we ran into a huge platoon of NVA troops. A firefight ensued. The fighting was intense. We lost five guys in my unit and several others were injured badly. Again, I escaped with only a bruise on my left thigh. This firefight scared me the most. It was dark, and all you could see were tracers from machine guns. I was sure one of those bullets had my name on it.
After that incident, the remainder of my tour was uneventful. I carried out other seek & destroy missions against enemy troops, but saw no action. During the seek & destroy missions, I enthusiastically carried out my duties as a pointman, and where ever else I was assigned. I served in the Vietnam theatre of operations for 13 months. During my combat duty in Vietnam, I lost many close war buddies, and witnessed many American soldiers die in major firefights with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops. As a result, I struggled daily from survivors’ guilt. My buddies died in combat and I, for the most part, incurred no major injuries. I experienced many life-threatening battle situations, and egregious life-sustaining scenarios while in the combat zone of Vietnam. I think about those events constantly.
LIFE SINCE THE TRAUMATIC EVENT(S)
When I left Vietnam and flew back to the states I remember being relieved and at the same time depressed and angry. I was glad to leave combat, where I lost many buddies and saw horrible things that
no one should be subjected to. I was extremely sad as well. I was sad that some of my buddies would never be returning to their families, and I was really sad knowing that I was leaving some of my buddies in harms way. When I got back to the states I was pissed. People called me a baby killer, war monger, and death machine. People who knew nothing about the war thought I was an animal and it made me very angry.
As a result, I found that I could not tolerate being around people, not even my family. Strangers who knew I served my country treated me with disdain. My family treated me like I had a disease. They were afraid to talk to me, and when they did muster up the courage to talk to me they always seemed to say the wrong thing. I go to bed angry and afraid most nights. Angry that my military experience in Vietnam has caused many problems for me. And afraid to go to sleep because the nightmares of Vietnam scare me badly. My brain cannot tell fact from fiction and when I have dreams about Vietnam it’s like I am re-living those horrible firefights I used to have in Vietnam. Daily, I find myself checking my windows, my door locks, and checking under my bed for intruders. I learned those skills in the Marine Corps, but my third wife seems to think I have lost my mind. She calls me paranoid.
Also, since I separated from the Marine Corps I have had a very difficult time sustaining employment. I first worked for the police department, but I was let go because my supervisor thought I was "trigger happy." I later worked for many small security guard firms, but all of them let me go. They said I had a temper that was out of control and that I was going to hurt someone. To earn a living I sold cars for many different dealerships. I was fired from every place I worked. The sales managers would piss me off. On one occasion, a sales manager refused to pay me and the next thing I knew I was being pulled off of the guy. I must have snapped, because I do not remember attacking him. I realized after working for automobile dealerships for more than a decade, I had to find something that I could do on my own. Since I knew the car business pretty well, I decided to open a small note lot. That didn’t last very long. The customers would make so angry that I could not sleep at night. I have been in a downward spiral of despair ever since.
I went to the VA to seek help for my mental anguish. I was informed that I may have PTSD. The psychological impact of multiple war experiences may have led to the many negative psychological issues and cognitive distortions that I have struggled with since departing Vietnam. I currently participate in a combat PTSD group at my local Vet Center, and I take many medications to help with my anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.
VIETNAM VETERAN – EXAMPLE OF POINTMAN STRESSOR LETTER
LIFE BEFORE MILITARY SERVICE
Growing up on the South side of Chicago was pretty tough. Crime was rampant, drugs were on every street corner, illiteracy seemed a way of life, and mother nature was a constant reminder of just how brutal life could be. Along with eight brothers and sisters, even getting basic essentials was an everyday challenge. My mother worked four jobs just to keep a roof over our heads. Since my mother worked so much, I hardly ever saw her. My oldest sister assumed the duties of parent for me and my brothers and sisters.
When I was having problems in junior high school, I remember it was my oldest sister who attended the parent-teacher conferences. When I got my report cards, I always showed it to my oldest sister. She
never gave me any positive feedback, the report card for her was a way to verify that I was going to school.
Getting good grades was never a problem. I never studied much, but I had a very good memory. In high school, I was able to memorize all of the words and definitions of the entire school dictionary. I was very proud of that. By the time I was in the eleventh grade, my mother’s health started to fade. She was unable to work due to severe arthritis. Years of cleaning toilet seats and mopping floors took their toll. To help the family, I started working in a nearby diner. I got a job washing dishes. My oldest sister always told me to work hard. I guess it sunk in, because I worked at the diner every chance I got, and I worked until the place closed regardless of the time I got there.
I was not earning enough money washing dishes to really support my family. I started consoling in friends for help. A friend of a friend informed me that I could make a lot of money by doing business on the street. I knew what that meant. Out of desperation I thought I would give it a try. My plan was to "work on the street" and wash dishes. If my friend was right, I could soon give up washing dishes and make a lot of money on the street. I was hoping I would make a lot of money quickly, put the money in the bank, then move on to a legitimate job.
My friend was right. I made lots of money, quickly and easily. As a teenager, when you are making $10,000 - $15,000 per month, you want more. The money I was earning helped my family and helped me live a lifestyle I only saw in the movies. I had a brand new Cadillac, fine clothes, expensive jewelry, and moved my family away from the South side of Chicago. My oldest sister knew I was making "dirty money," but she never said a word to me about it. My brothers and sisters saw me as a hero. They never asked where I got the money either.
I was good at selling and manipulating people for my own personal gain. I soon dropped out of high school to pursue the dream of making more money.
Then it all ended. I’ll never forget that day. On May 30, 1966, the mail came early that day. Typically, I did not get mail, but that day I had a letter from the U.S. Government. Instinctively I knew what it was – my draft notice.
LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE
In July 1966, I reported to the local MEPS station and enlisted in the U.S. Army. I was in conflict from the moment I signed my name. On one hand I saw the Army as a way of living a clean lifestyle. On the other hand, I missed the excitement and money of the streets.
Basic training was harder than what my friends told me. The physical training was a piece of cake. Following directives from angry drill sergeants was hard. For the most part, I was being yelled at on a daily basis. I had trouble waking up in the morning. I had trouble cleaning. I had trouble with the drill sergeants telling me what to eat and how much. All my life I had been my own drill sergeant, now I had these army grunts telling what to do and how to do it. That was a huge adjustment for me. To keep from getting in trouble I made it a game. I recruited a couple of guys I knew from the streets to look after my things. I hired them as my personal assistances. Because of my reputation in South Chicago I had no problem getting them to do what I wanted.
After basic training I was sent to Vietnam immediately. Assigned to a forward base unit in DaNang, I quickly learned the ropes. Vietnam was a lot different from what I had been briefed on. All the military protocol was out the window. It was a free-for-all existence. I was sure I could adapt to that lifestyle very quickly, and I was right. In no time at all I was running a gambling hall behind the scenes. All of
the guys knew to come see me if they wanted a chance a making some extra loot. I liked DaNang. I was making money, I had girls, and I was popular with the guys. It was like a vacation until I got called to the field.
My first impulse was to get someone to take my place, I had a gambling hall to run. At the same time, I figured I would increase my reputation and respect by going out on search and destroy missions.
On November 3, 1966, my unit commander asked me to lead a group of 17 guys on a mission North of DaNang. I was glad he asked me. I knew I could lead, but I informed the commander that I had to handpick who I wanted. He agreed. I selected a good combination of city kids and country boys. These were the survivors. I didn’t want any privileged punks going out in the jungle with me.
That night, while digging in to rest we got ambushed. All day my instincts told me we were being followed. That was the last time I ignored my intuition.
The NVA had us surrounded. We were being bombarded with small arms fire, rockets, and grenades. However, my guys were armed, ready, and willing to fight. Just as I hoped, most seemed to enjoy the experience. Not sure how many enemy soldiers had us surrounded, but I can say that my guys killed 36 enemy troops that night. It was a blood bath. The kills came so easy it was like my guys were shooting cans at an arcade.
At sunrise we ran across a few dead NVA troops. Most were young boys. We were young, but these were little kids. One kid, probably about 13 or 14 was missing the top half of his skull. His brain was bulging and swollen out of his skull. It was a horrible sight. Another NVA kid was lying face up with his entrails exposed. There were a few more bodies laying around. We left them there and moved on. Luckily, none of my guys were hurt.
Two days later while heading back to the base my guys and I entered a small village. Hungry, thirsty, and tired, we decided to camp out there for the night. The local villagers did not want us to stay. Even though we could not communicate with them, I could sense some degree of urgency from the villagers. My instincts told me they were trying to warn us. My instincts were right.
Around dusk, I noticed that all of the villagers were disappearing. I wasn’t sure where they were going, but I had my guys take cover. Even though it seemed like an eternity, about two hours after taking cover a small band of NVA troops entered the village. One of my country boys, who had sniper training picked off three NVA troops right away. The rest of the NVA troops scattered in the jungle. We never did see them again.
After the shootings lots of villagers came from out of hiding. They unclothed the three dead NVA troops, tied ropes around their necks and hoisted them up a tree. The scene was gruesome.
The remainder of my tour in Vietnam involved briefing troops about the dangers of search and destroy missions and running my gambling hall. All of the brass knew what I was doing was wrong, but they seemed to condone it because it helped with morale.
LIFE AFTER TRAUMATIC EVENT
I didn’t realize it right away, however, after a year or two from discharging from the Army, it became apparent that my time in uniform and in Vietnam changed how I saw the world. When I was in Vietnam my senses operated at maximum capacity and effectiveness. I was always on guard. My family and friends tell me that I still act like I am in Vietnam. When we go out to eat I only sit in restaurants with
my back to the wall. If I can’t see everything in front of me, then I don’t eat there. If a restaurant is crowded, I will not eat there. I can’t stand the crowds, they make me want to fight somebody.
Also, every now and then I will have nightmares about Vietnam crap. Not the firefight I was involved in, but general war scenes. Especially the faces of NVA soldiers.
My family and friends tell me that I seem cold and distant. They tell me all the time that I act like I’m afraid to get close to people. My three ex-wives used to tell me all the time that I was incapable of deep feelings toward them.
Every boss I ever had reminded me of those drill sergeants in basic training. They all yelled at me, treated with disrespect, tried to boss me around, and most seemed incompetent. When I worked as a butcher at a local supermarket, one boss fired me because I ran a football parlay. I made lots of money running that parlay and morale was never higher at the supermarket. But he didn’t see it that way. For whatever reason, I have never been able to hold down a legitimate job for more than a year. Since discharging from the army I have had over 50 jobs.
Lastly, my life after Vietnam has been so screwed up that I get really down sometimes. I have been known to stay in bed for weeks. Too tired to move and too angry to try. I look like I have anorexia nervosa because I have lost close to a hundred pounds. I don’t eat much anymore. I just don’t seem to be hungry anymore. I am not entirely sure what happened to me in Vietnam, but I am sure something affected me that altered my potential.
PERSIAN GULF VETERAN EXAMPLE STRESSOR LETTER
LIFE BEFORE MILITARY SERVICE
Before I joined the Marine Corps, I was active in many things. My family has a long history of military participation, so a lot of what I did when I was younger involved the military. For instance, for as long as I can remember my family and I always went to local military Air Shows. I was always interested in the tanks and armored vehicles that were present at the Air Shows. A few shows had rifles, pistols, and grenade launchers that you could pick up and play with. Those were my favorite shows.
My family was heavy into visiting military installations too. My dad was a disabled veteran, so we had access to all of the military installations. We were close to El Toro Marine Corps base, and used to visit there all of the time. My family used the commissary and PX a lot. I was involved in a lot of on base clubs. For instance, when I was 13 I joined the "Junior Marine Corps Club." I loved being part of the club. I loved the camouflaged uniforms we were, I loved the structure, and I really liked the attention we got from "real Marines." Also, we were always busy doing weekend details around the base. I secretly wished I could stay engaged in Junior Marine Corps stuff everyday rather than go to school.
During high school I was active in band, debate team, and advanced science. I played trombone in the school marching band. That was a lot of fun, especially when we were tasked to participate in local parades. I was active on the school debate as well. My junior year we went to the state finals. Out of 10 schools in the finals we came in eighth place. I loved science in high school. I competed in all the state competitions. I never placed, but I had a lot of fun.
Also, during my high school years I became a Junior Marine Corps mentor. When I wasn’t doing the things in high school, the rest of my time and energy was spent with the Junior Marine Corps. I trained
your Corps members, planned events, coordinated events, and conducted speaking tours in the local area about the benefits of Junior Marine Corps training.
When I graduated from high school I worked full time with the Junior Marine Corps Club. I was given the position of Regional Coordinator. I enjoyed working with the young Marines and promoting the program. I was personally responsible for increasing membership from 125 members to 742.
Then it hit me one day – join the Marine Corps. At 19 years-old, I visited a Marine Corps recruiter and knew and discussed my options. Like any good recruiter, he made the Marine Corps sound like heaven. So I joined.
LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE
I completed basic training at MCRD San Diego, not far from my home. A lot of the guys complained about the heat during training, but I was used to it. That was the only thing I was used to. Basic training was very hard. The physical training was almost impossible. I was recycled once because I couldn’t complete the runs in the allotted time established by the Marine Corps. The "Crucible" was a major accomplishment for me. No one thought I was going to make it.
When I completed basic training and tech school, I was stationed at Twentynine Palms. It was nice being close to home and stationed in an area of the country I was familiar with. My job as a Water Safety Instructor was nice too. I spent a lot of time scheduling classes, planning training routines, instructing recruits on water safety, and cleaning water safe equipment. It was an easy job, one I enjoyed doing too. It was a lot like the stuff I used to do for the Junior Marine Corps Club. However, that all changed in October 1990.
When Operation Desert Shield was started in August 1990, I didn’t think much of it. I always knew in the back of my mind that the Marine Corps might send me off to fight, but I never thought it would happen. Heck, I was a Water Safety Instructor. I assumed I would be the last to ever go to war, especially in a part of the world that didn’t need my skill set.
Because my job as a Water Safety Instructor was not "mission essential," the Marine Corps thought I could be better utilized as an Infantryman. So, on October 15, 1990, I was shipped to Kuwait. About half of the base from Twentynine Palms was sent to the Middle East. When we got there I was very nervous. We were told by Commanders that we would storm Iraq any day.
On January 16, 1991, we were given orders to head to the border of Iraq and Kuwait. I was scared out of my mind. We were briefed that the Iraqi Republican Guard militia was world class and that we were going to have one heck of a fight on our hands.
January 17, 1991, my unit crossed the border into Iraq. It was cold, dark, and windy. It was eerily quiet as we marched North to Baghdad. I think everyone was frightened. I know I was. My head was on a spindle. I was super alert, looking for any sign of an attack. The closer we got to Baghdad, the more nervous I became. I was wondering if my training as a Water Safety Instructor had any relevance for what was about to happen.
Around 9:20 A.M. all hell broke loose. In the middle of a sand storm we marched North, fighting wind, sand, and the cold weather. Air Force bombers went in before us and as we approached Baghdad we came across the aftermath of dead Iraqi troops and equipment. I’ll never forget the smell of burned, rotting flesh. A "trail of death," as the media dubbed it, was in our path. It seemed to go on for miles. Mutilated bodies of dead Iraqi troops were everywhere.
Just before entering the boundary of Baghdad we encountered small arms fire from the Republican Guard. There must have been about 50-75 Iraqi snipers in buildings all around us. Rounds were riquocheting off our vehicles. My unit was given orders to sweep a few nearby buildings. We had to kick down the doors and capture who ever was in the building. That was a terrifying experience. You never knew who or what was waiting for you behind those doors.
I remember when we kicked down one door a family was there sitting on the floor around the dead body of an Iraqi soldier. The family was yelling and screaming. Partly from fear that we were going to harm them and partly from grief over a loved one. As I looked at the soldier they were crying over, I was shocked to see that the guy was mutilated. His face was almost unrecognizable. After marshalling the family to a nearby plaza, we proceeded to check other buildings. I was glad we did not see anymore people.
On January 30, 1991, I was directed to help a small detail of guys pick up body parts around Baghdad. We had to find them, identify the part, label it and place it in bags. It was a disgusting detail. I found blown up fingers, arms, legs, and head fragments. I almost throw-up several times as I gathered the body parts. Thank goodness it was all enemy body parts I found.
Many nights after seeing body parts and decomposed bodies I started having intense nightmares about war. I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating profusely. I think I even screamed out loud a couple of times. I hoped desperately that no one heard me. Also, I started having panic attacks as I entered rooms with doors. In my mind I was having flashbacks about kicking in doors in Baghdad. For some reason, I was really jumpy to. Loud noises scared the crap out of me.
When I got back to the states I was hoping my nightmares, panic attacks, and jumpiness would go away, but it didn’t. I thought about visiting the unit Chaplain or the mental health department at Twentynine Palms to see if they could help me, but I was reluctant. I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t a tough, mentally strong Marine.
After the Persian Gulf War I spent another 8 years in the Marine Corps. I decided to give the civilian world a try. The economy was doing well, I was well trained by the Marine Corps, and I thought it would be better to seek out help for my issues in the civilian world. So, I decided to leave the Marine Corps.
LIFE AFTER MILITARY SERVICE
Leaving the Marine Corps was the biggest mistake of my life. I moved to Los Angeles, California after I left the Corps. My plan was to attend UCLA, get a degree in Business Administration, and open a business. Those planes were quickly dashed when it became apparent that the Montgomery G.I. Bill would not cover expenses.
After living on unemployment insurance and shaking up with my girlfriend to make ends meet, I finally landed a job working as a waiter in a high end restaurant in Diamond Bar. I was told I could easily make $60K - $70K per year waiting tables. That didn’t work out either.
The customers treated you like crap, the managers were manipulative liars, and the money was not as good as I was told. Also, my panic attacks were more frequent and they would get the best of me. I also felt vulnerable working in an environment where it was hard to watch my back. I was fired after four months on the job.
My girlfriend was very angry. She was the breadwinner, and I was struggling to do my part in our financial partnership. She started complaining about my nightmares and fidgety impairment in bed. She would call me paranoid every chance she got. Luckily for me she was committed to making things work between us.
I landed another job working as a hot shot runner. I thought the job would be easy and I would have a little more control about my surroundings. I was wrong again. When I delivered packages to local businesses the intensity of my panic attacks were too much to handle. There were several occasions when I was completely out of breathe. When I entered businesses I would lose it. I delivered a package to a local business on Figueroa Street one day and almost passed out. The day was bleak and overcast just like Iraq, and the building looked a lot like the buildings in Baghdad. I had major flashbacks, I was shaking, sweating, and I couldn’t breathe. I ran to my car and went home. That night I tried to explain to my girlfriend what happened, but she didn’t want to hear me out. She was furious. When I went to work the next day my boss gave me my last check and told me not to come back.
By now I am wondering if I was going crazy. I didn’t have any money, no health insurance, no job, and no prospects. I started to lose a lot of weight. I just wasn’t hungry anymore.
With only $275 in my bank account I bought a lawnmower and a DBA. I opened up my own landscaping business. I did not want to depend on others for my money, and I wanted to be able to control situations in the hope that I could eliminate my panic attacks. Getting business was very difficult, but I persevered. After six months of banging on doors I finally had enough money to hold up my end of the financial agreement with my girlfriend. My nightmares decreased, my panic attacks decreased, my appetite was back, and I thought I was on the road to recovery. I was wrong again.
On September 11, 2001, America was attacked. The bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought everything back again. I started having really bad dreams, I couldn’t sleep at night, I lost my appetite again, and it was very difficult for me to knock on my customers doors. I finally went to see a shrink. The guy said I had full blown posttraumatic stress disorder. He told me to visit the VA so I could get medication for my symptoms.
After visiting the VA I was assigned a doctor who prescribed medication to me. I was put in group therapy too. I joined the local Disabled American Veterans association too. DAV instructed me to file a claim for PTSD. I was assigned a Veterans Service Officer who helped me fill out the paperwork. I am waiting to get the results of my claim.
IRAQ VETERAN – EXAMPLE STRESSOR LETTER
LIFE BEFORE MILITARY SERVICE
I grew up in Bakersfield, California. My early beginnings were uneventful and ordinary. Just me, my three younger brothers and my mom and dad. As I remember, being the oldest, my younger brothers always looked up to me. In their eyes, I could do no wrong. They always tried to do everything I did.
When I played little league baseball, my family would attend all of my games. I was pretty good at baseball. I played centerfield and pitched. Whenever I pitched, my younger brothers would mimic everything I did. I remember seeing them rub their brow just the way I used to do when I was on the mound.
When I was in high school I took a lot of automotive classes. What I learned in school I always tried to use it to fix my dad’s cars. Just as my younger brother’s emulated me when I was playing baseball, they tried to do as I did when I worked on my dad’s cars.
After I graduated from high school I worked as an automobile mechanic at a local dealership. The job paid close to nothing, and because I was the new kid on the block I got all the crummy jobs. Also, the service manager at the dealership did not seem to like me. He would yell at me everyday for nothing. I always thought I should get paid to have someone yell at me. Then one day it hit me, "Go join the Army. They yell at you and you get paid for them to do it."
Before visiting with the Army recruiter, I visited with recruiters from the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy. I wanted to make sure I was joining the right branch. My visits with the other recruiters did not sit well with me, so I signed the contract and enlisted in the Army.
LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE
During basic training I met a lot of guys just like me. Guys from all over the U.S., my age, and with similar backgrounds. I felt like I discovered another family. After I finished basic training and my tech school, I was stationed at Ft. Dix as an MP. My first duty was to guard the front gate. I was really good at checking ID, enforcing entrance standards, and doing any other job that was assigned to me.
After two years at Ft. Dix I started to hear rumors that my unit was going to be called up and sent to Iraq. Some wanted to go, others didn’t. Me, I didn’t care one way or the other.
Saturday morning, November 5, 2005, my supervisor called me on my cell phone and ordered me to work. My unit was headed to Iraq. So, I grabbed my duffle bag and headed to work. When I got there we were briefed about our mission, given tons of shots, and driven to McGuire AFB. When we got to the base there was a 747 waiting for us. My unit and I boarded and we flew to Iraq.
After being in an airplane for 21 hours you get a little edgy. When we landed in Iraq I was in a bad mood. I think other guys were as well. I was quickly given orders that I was assigned to a prison camp. My job was to guard Iraqi prisoners of war.
As I was driven to my unit I noticed that Iraq looked a lot like the deserts in Southern California. I knew I was a long way from California, but the surroundings made me feel at peace oddly enough. I wasn’t afraid at all. Even though I knew I was in a combat zone, the desert mountains and the morale of my unit made me feel comfortable. I learned real quick you don’t want to feel comfortable in a combat zone.
Before I was sent to the prison camp, my commander at the time directed me to guard an entry point at a nearby unit. My job was to check ID of all incoming personnel before they could enter the unit.
One night, when I was tired, cranky, and a little weak, we got hit. I saw the lights of a vehicle about 3 klicks away headed right for the unit. Then it stopped and turned the lights off. Next thing I saw was a flash. The insurgents fired several RPGs at my unit. The RPGs were landing everywhere. I remember being very upset. I kept thinking, "What cowards! They are firing at me and my unit from long distance. Why don’t they get closer so I can shoot ‘em?" I quickly got my wish.
This gung-ho captain ordered me and a few others to chase after the insurgents. About 20-25 other MPs jumped in five Humvees and drove to the spot where the RPGs were coming from. On the way there my Humvee was hit by an RPG. Everything happened in slow motion. I was on top of the Humvee manning a 50 caliber when the RPG hit the front of my Humvee. Even though I know the explosion was loud, I didn’t hear a thing. All I remember is that I was catapulted in the air. I could see a huge fireball around the Humvee I was in. Next thing I knew I was on the ground looking up at the black sky. First thing I did was check my legs and arms to see if they were intact. At this point, everything seemed like a bad dream. My limbs were ok, but my head was hurting badly and my ears were ringing loudly. Unable to hear and my vision a little blurry, I managed to shuffle near the Humvee I was in to see if everyone was ok. What I saw next will stay with me forever.
As I slowly approached the Humvee that was burning, I could see the silhouette of the driver. He was being burned to a crisp in the Humvee. Then I saw two other guys on the ground, fire all over their bodies. One of the guys was split in two. Each part burning separately. At this point I looked around for help, but the other guys had taken protective postures to keep themselves safe. Then I checked the other side of the Humvee. One other guy was there, lying on is back. He wasn’t on fire, just had a little smoke coming from his uniform. Just before I got to the guy I passed out.
When I woke up I was in a hospital bed. I had bandages on my left leg and my head. I noticed I had wires and tubes connected to my head and arms. I couldn’t see very well, and my head was killing me. I tried to look around to see if anyone was around I could talk to, but all I saw were injured soldiers in beds and no nurses or doctors. At this point, I am really concerned. I wanted to know where I was and what was wrong with me. I guess all of this made me weak, because I passed out again.
This time, when I woke up I had about 10 medical staff around me. They all seemed to be speaking gibberish. I couldn’t make out a word they were saying. I could tell from their faces that something was wrong. My anxiety shot through the roof. I was trying to get up, and they were trying to hold me down. Next thing I knew I was in "La La Land." I felt calm, easy, and tranquil. The nurses instructed me to relax and they mentioned that everything was going to be ok. I believed them. I knew then they had given me something to relax. I didn’t know what drug, but I knew I liked it. My head wasn’t hurting anymore, the ringing in my ears was gone, and I felt peaceful. I passed out again.
I woke up the next day. My headache was back and so was the ringing in my ears. There was an Army nurse near me. I called her and asked her if I was ok. The nurse informed me that I had a major head injury. She said my skull was cracked in three places, that I had been unconscious for a week, and that my left leg had to be sewn up. I was stunned. I asked the nurse for some medication for my major headache. She gave me a few pills and I dozed off. This routine went on for a month. Finally, I was flown back to the states and admitted to another Army hospital in Texas.
After two months, my confusion, headaches, and blurry vision disappeared. I learned that I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The doctors told me my memory will never be the same again. My short-term memory is all but gone, and I can barely remember anything about being stationed at Ft. Dix. Many of the things I learned in high school are gone. Also, my speech is a little slow. The doctors told me I would have to learn how to talk again.
I was quickly medically discharged. I moved back to Bakersfield and moved in with my parents. I quickly visited the local Veterans Affairs (VA) to work on my recovery. Also, I applied for a service-connected claim for TBI. I also participated in the Voc Rehab program at the VA.
LIFE AFTER TRAUMATIC EVENT
While I was in the voc rehab program, my counselor asked me if I thought I wanted to go to college. He said that the government would pay my tuition and provide me with a monthly stipend for other expenses if I were interested. I took him up on the offer.
I applied at San Joaquin Valley College (SJVC) and was accepted in the Aviation Maintenance Technology program. I was good in auto mechanics in high school, I thought this would be an opportunity to get back to my roots. Something I was familiar with. Also, I knew I wanted no part in law enforcement. Doing police work did not seem to work out well for me.
It became apparent from the beginning that studying and preparing for college work was going to be difficult. I had a very hard time trying to memorize information. I couldn’t get organized. It seemed like a million things were going through my head all at once and I could not focus on anything. Everyday that I went to class seemed like my first. I could never remember being there the day before. Long story short, college did not work out for me. My goal then was to work on my service-connected claim a little harder. So I visited with my Veteran Service Officer (VSO).
My VSO informed me that my service-connected claim was denied because no one could prove that I was injured in Iraq. That made me very angry. I was shocked at the same time. He said he would appeal the decision, gather more evidence, and get back to me. He said for me to be patient because the appeal would take about a year to be reviewed. I left his office so angry I wanted to hurt someone. I didn’t care who, anyone.
I needed a job asap. So I set out looking for jobs in Bakersfield. Everything I read on Internet job sites said that businesses were hiring veterans, but when I applied for the jobs I was denied again, and again, and again. I finally landed a job as a security guard at a local bank. I didn’t really want the job, but I needed the job. My supervisor at the time told me I got the job because of my military experience as an MP. After a week on the job I was fired. They let me go because I couldn’t remember the procedure to secure the bank vault. I later got another job as a night time security guard working in a high rise office building. That job didn’t last long either. I couldn’t get to work on time, I forgot to do my rounds, I couldn’t remember to check identification of those entering the building, and I was told I scared the building tenants because of my vacant blank look. I secured a few other jobs down the road and was fired from each of them.
I am currently unemployed, living with my parents, and looking for gainful employment. Since my accident in Iraq things have been pretty rough.
AFGHANISTAN VETERAN EXAMPLE STRESSOR LETTER
LIFE BEFORE MILITARY SERVICE
Growing up in Rantoul, Illinois, life was pretty nice. The long cold winters and the short summers made for a great place to grow up. Like most guys in Rantoul, I had dreams of serving my country. Most of what I learned about the military started in elementary school.
When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Wilburn, who was a veteran of the U.S. Army always spoke about his days in the Army. He was my inspiration for joining the Army. He made the Army sound like it was the greatest place in the world. His stories about military duty, firefights, marching, and wearing his uniform made me want to join right away.
When I was in high school I joined my high school’s JROTC unit. By my senior year, I made it to the rank of Sergeant Major. When I wore my uniform I felt like a King. The kids in school didn’t really understand what JROTC stood for, but I knew. Mr. Wilburn said that people need to understand that when a soldier wears the uniform he represents an entire Nation. I always tried to remember that when I wore my uniform for JROTC functions.
LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE
As soon as I graduated from high school I joined the Army. Boot camp was easy for me. I knew how to march, I knew how to wear the uniform, I knew about military command and structure, and I always stayed fit. My four years in JROTC helped me a lot. My drill sergeant promoted me to squad leader, then platoon leader. My troops looked toward me for leadership.
After boot camp I was sent to AIT. In AIT I shined. I was quickly promoted to platoon leader. I won awards for marksmanship, leadership, and physical fitness. After AIT I was sent to my first installation.
When I arrived at Fort Benning I was as they say "sharp as a tac." Somehow, my command sergeant knew about my accomplishments in AIT and he told me from the very beginning, "I expect a lot out of you." I took that to heart.
After six months at Ft. Benning, my unit received orders to Afghanistan. So, on March 10, 2004, I flew to Afghanistan with my unit. We were briefed that we had to help support convoy units through the mountains. No problem. I was ready and so was my unit. For several months we guarded supply convoys and didn’t see any enemy troops or action. That all changed in October.
On October 5, 2004, while traveling North to Kabol, my unit came across several IEDs. One of the fuel trucks we guarded ran over an IED an exploded. Everyone in the truck was killed. Enemy troops bombarded us with fire from all directions. I was never angrier in my life. My buddies were killed instantly by enemy troops I wanted to kill.
On October 12, 2004, I was awakened at 5:26 A.M. to the sound of loud bangs. We were being bombed by insurgents. Small RPGs were landing all around us. I took cover in a nearby trench. I remember thinking to myself, "There is no way that my life is going to end like this." After 5 minutes the bombing was over. As we surveyed the grounds we came across several of our guys who had been hit. Two guys were killed and 12 others were badly injured.
Several months went by before we had any problems. On February 16, 2005, my unit was traveling to Kabol again. On the way, we ran over several IEDs. My Humvee took a direct hit. I was so angry that my truck was hit that I shot my M-16 randomly in the air and ran off tons of rounds before I realized someone was yelling at me to stop. The driver of my Humvee was killed. I was so pissed that I ran toward the mountains screaming and firing my M-16. I was looking for insurgents. I wanted to kill the scumbags that buried the IED in our path. When I ran out of bullets I walked back to the wreckage, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had run a long way, I was more than a mile from where we were hit.
Unfortunately, on February 21, 2005, we were attacked by mountain insurgents while traveling through a gorge. Bullets and small rockets were coming in from the West. We all took cover behind our vehicles. Still fresh in my mind was my buddy who was killed by an IED a few days ago. Just thinking about it put me in a rage. I decided right there I was going to take someone out to avenge my buddy’s death.
Without orders, I low-crawled to a nearby boulder, and then another, and another. Within minutes, I could see three insurgents firing at my unit. They were tucked in behind a huge rock formation. Seeing them wrapped up in dirty sheets and with their dusty faces made me angrier than I have ever been. The anger filled me with tons of adrenaline. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to those creeps.
Fueled by the memory of my buddy and the guys in the fuel truck, I gripped my M-16 tightly, and grabbed a grenade. The creeps were about 80 yards from me. While doing grenade training back in the States I was never able to throw a grenade more than 40 yards with any accuracy. That day, my grenade landed perfectly in the middle of the three insurgents. The excitement of a direct hit motivated me to get closer and admire my work. As I approached the insurgents I could see that they were only stunned, not dead. So I got closer, opened up a blistering round of bullets right in their bodies. I loved it, but it wasn’t enough. I decided to obliterate these bums. With the trigger of my M-16 jammed back as far as it could go I riddled the heads of these bums with bullets. Their heads exploded open like wet paper bags.
Jubilant and proud, I slowly walked back to my unit. My heart was pounding with excitement. I couldn’t wait to share what I did with my guys. As I got closer to my unit, I could see my commander running toward me. I could see from the language of his run that he was not happy. My proud moment instantly turned to uncontrollable rage. I picked up my pace and ran toward him. We collided. He was yelling at me, and to this day I had no idea what he was saying. I just started punching him in the face.
When we got back to the base I felt exhausted. I went to my corner of our tent, laid down on my cot and fell asleep. Next thing I knew I was being handcuffed by MPs. They didn’t say a word to me. I was taken to a tent filled with a bunch of officers. I was told to sit down in front of them. I could feel myself getting irritated by the whole event. I wasn’t listening to anything they had to say, but I knew they were mad with me for taking out those insurgents. I was told to pack up my things, they were sending me back to the States.
When I got back to Ft. Benning I was quickly kicked out of the Army and given a bad conduct discharge. Being kicked out of the Army placed a heavy burden on me. I felt like I let everybody down, especially Mr. Wilburn.
LIFE AFTER MILITARY SERVICE
I was planning on making the military a career. I loved being in the Army. I have no regrets about anything I did. I think the guys I protected would thank me if they had a chance. At the same time, my experiences in Afghanistan and getting a bad conduct discharge changed me forever.
I returned to Rantoul to look for a job. I looked everywhere. I looked for two months with no luck. My folks told me I should try a big city. I didn’t care much for Chicago, the closes big city near Rantoul. But, Indianapolis seemed like a good place to try and find work.
With nothing more than a high school education and bad memories of Afghanistan, I searched for jobs that would remind me of the Army. I applied for law enforcement jobs and security jobs. With a BCD, no one gave me a chance. Desperate and broke, I begged a local bar owner if I could wait tables at his place. He didn’t ask about my past, didn’t do a background check, heck, I didn’t even fill out an application, but I got the job. Rex, the owner, had me start right away. He said he wanted to test me out first and would pay me under the table for a few weeks. I needed the money, so I didn’t see a problem with our arrangement.
I didn’t realize how often people went to bars to drown their sorrow in a bottle of whiskey. On many occasions these pitiful folks would piss me off. I guess Rex got tired of me yelling at his customers that he let me go. That was the first firing in a string of firings I experienced.
For months I could not hold a job for more than a few weeks. I gave up looking and wandered the streets of Indianapolis until I ran out of money. I needed to clear my head. Depressed, angry, and disappointed with myself, I needed something to pick me up. I visited a fancy adult club on English Avenue. Sitting in the club, I thought to myself that I would enjoy being a bouncer at the place. It would make me feel like I was in the Army again. I asked the manager if he needed a bouncer and to my surprise he said, "Yes!" I started the next day.
My first night on the job didn’t start well at all. I was told to stand at the door and look intimidating and that would be enough to ward off potential trouble. I didn’t have a problem with that at all. At 6’ 4", 271 pounds, I was bigger than most people. I was stronger than most people too. I also knew I could kick butt if I had to.
I hadn’t seen any Middle Eastern people since leaving Afghanistan, until these two Middle Eastern men attempted to enter the club. I stopped them and asked for ID. Just the sight of them aroused intense feelings. I was hoping they would give me a reason to crush them. One guy was meek and introverted, the other guy was brash and cocky. He was resistant and did not want to show his ID. I snatched his wallet out of his hands, grabbed his driver’s license and read his name. Flashbacks about firefights in Afghanistan came rushing back. My heart started to pound, adrenaline surged into my veins, sweat poured from my head, and my teeth automatically started to grind. I was thinking, "Please give me a reason to crush you." The cocky Middle Eastern guy got in my face, his nose touched my chin. I lost it. I completely blacked out. I came to my senses as the cops hit me with their taser guns.
I was told that I beat the heck out of the two Middle Eastern guys. One guy suffered a concussion, and I apparently broke the cocky guy’s jaw, eye socket, and busted his left arm. I was proud of what I did. In my mind, I got a little revenge for my buddies who were killed in Afghanistan.
For that altercation I had to do a year in jail. Since getting out of jail I have been looking for a job. I am currently in the veterans’ homeless shelter and getting treatment for PTSD at the local VA.
Are you ready to File a PTSD Claim?
Now that you have read about Stressors and Gaff scores and finding a service officer lets think about one other area you need to be prepared for. Your chances of getting a higher rating are diminished greatly if you have not been under the care of a shrink, have not had meds given to you for PTSD symptoms and also if you have not been going to the either the shrink, social worker or a PTSD group or all of these for at least 6 months on a regular basis. You must show that you have tried to have your illness treated. This carries allot of weight with your claim. I feel you need to do the following to strengthen you claim.
First get a complete copy of your VA records, you will have to sign for them and usually wait a few weeks, once you have these copies carry them with you Always when you go to the VA, especially your records concerning your PTSD claim. Remember the VA has the bad habit of losing your records. Have them updated at least quarterly.
Go to your Shrink, the Dr. that ordered your meds, any group leader you have had for PTSD group, any social worker and any civilian Dr. you have worked with and ask them all to write you a Personal Letter rating you with the severity of your PTSD and also have them include your Gaff score in the letter. They will not offer these letters and don't ask for a letter in front of others do it privately. You should never be refused. The letter may not say what you want but the chances of you getting a solid letter from them is highly likely. Once you have these letters have them included in your file by your Service Officer. Do not trust that the VA will include them. Always have them with you at all times also.
I would recommend that when possible that you do not subject yourself to a extended lock down for PTSD, Try using group or one on one counseling in lieu of this or PTSD group.
Remember if you don't show emotion and tears in your interviews or groups that you are probably going to go no where with your claim. 1 know it's hard and you have in many cases had your feelings hidden for years now, but you have to release them. This is not the time for you to be sucking up your pain as you have been doing for years. Don't try and be a hard ass and don't ever curse or threaten your Dr. or go there under the influence of any drugs or alcohol other than what has been prescribed by the VA to you. You will find that not only will this benefit your claim but it will also benefit your personal well being by helping you expunge many of the horrors you experienced in combat.
When you go for your C & P. Take your records and these letters with you and offer them Before the C & P begins. Chances are they won't have this information. This same applies if you apply for Social Security.
Remember if you end up with a total disability rating of 70% or more for PTSD or a combination of Service Connected disabilities you are considered unemployable (that's assuming you are not working ) and you can get 100% from the VA and if you have worked enough quarters from Social Security also.
I encourage you to call me if I can assist you, If you like call me prior to a C & P maybe I can help you get a idea on what's going to occur in this very important meeting. Don't forget we did things by the numbers in the Military if you do them by the numbers for your claim your chances of being turned down the first time have been greatly decreased. The least that will happen is that out of the gate whatever rating you get will be higher than it would have been without this supportive information. You can always appeal a lower rating which is allot easier to appeal than a flat denial.
Welcome Home and Good Luck
Vietnam Veterans of America info on PTSD