One of the areas of healthcare in which we have to do better is mental health. PTSD is a bear. For the most part, we really don’t have the answers.
Nightmares of a friend dying beside him in a bunker years ago now waken Donald Vitkus. “There is stuff that you carry from the war,” the 71-year-old Vietnam veteran said.
Mr. Vitkus spends his days in and out of therapy at a residential rehabilitation center filled with mostly older veterans, working on his memory while trying to gain control over disturbing recollections and the emotions they surface.
He is one of hundreds of thousands of aging Vietnam veterans who late in life are now seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder—a mix of flashbacks, depression and sleeplessness springing from a war that ended four decades ago.
More than 530,000 veterans received treatment for PTSD from VA hospitals and clinics through March of this year, nearly double the total through 2006, according to the Veterans Administration. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up a large portion of the increase but account for slightly more than a quarter of PTSD patients; the rest served in earlier wars, mainly Vietnam.
Many of those Vietnam veterans threw themselves into family and work after the war, keeping busy to avoid thinking about what happened. Now, in their 60s and 70s, they have retired, their children grown, living without the distraction of workaday life. Some no longer have confidants—spouses, friends or siblings. (more…)