PTSD Spirituality: “I thought you go to Vietnam and kill a few people and forget about it.”

“I thought you go to Vietnam and kill a few people and forget about it.”

 That quotation is from Philip Van Cott, Unites States Marine, wounded in Vietnam in 1966.  While he left the jungle behind him, twelve of his buddies did not, PTSD accompanied him out of Nam and back to the World.  After his medevac and then months in hospitals he re-entered civilian life.  Uncontrolled rages, nightmares, and anger followed him home.  He would break into cold sweats and get into fist fights.  PTSD almost cost him his job and did not exactly nourish his marriage.

 If you know about PTSD this sounds familiar.  For the last decade Van Cott has acknowledged his PTSD.  Before that he denied his PTSD.  He figured that guys were trying to milk the system for payments.  People, usually civilians, accuse traumatized veterans of trying to milk the system all the time.  It is all part of the accusers commitment to compassion and supporting the troops (I hope you caught the irony of that last statement).  If your trauma is not military related, then the lack of compassion for your PTSD is usually worse. 

Van Cott talks with other veterans about his PTSD at a Veterans Administration facility.  His counselor is also a veteran and has survived his own trauma.

 Delayed Onset PTSD

Vietnam veterans still present the major PTSD caseload at the VA.  This, in spite of our two on-going current wars.  One should not be surprised.  PTSD can manifest itself at different times in one’s life.  There can be Immediate Onset, Delayed Onset, and Cyclic Onset PTSD.  In Delayed Onset PTSD one can be “fine” for years and years, and then the memories and the PTSD Identity flood back in and seek to destroy us.  This can be ten or twenty years after the initial set of traumas are experienced.

 Delayed Recognition

Delayed Onset PTSD is when the symptoms don’t show up for much later, say a decade or more.  Often we have PTSD symptoms from the start but refuse to recognize them as such until years later.  In this case we have Delayed Recognition.  We often refuse to acknowledge our PTSD for several reasons:

–   We don’t want to be stigmatized by society,

–   PTSD harms your promotion chances in the military,

–   We don’t want to admit to any “weakness,”

–   Many Americans think PTSD is a choice and not a condition.

 “I thought you go to Vietnam and kill a few people and forget about it.”

As the title quotation from Phil Van Cott indicates.  Many of us think we can go do the job, come back, forget about it and be unaffected.  American society desires this as well.  They want us to get over being raped, or abused by a priest, or shot at, and act as if nothing happened, as if it has no meaning.  But trauma affects our souls.  It sticks with us, stalks us.  We may try to forget about it, but it won’t forget about us.

 Nourishing the PTSD Wounded Soul

Phil Van Cott is doing the right things.  It’s not his fault he has PTSD.  If you read the article you will see he is engaging the activities that nourish a soul and defeat the PTSD Identity.

–   He talks with other people affected by trauma

–   He paints (almost any form of artwork or music is soul restoring)

–   He goes to Mass (it is important to have religious ritual of some sort)

–   He chooses not to give in to anger

–   He travels with his wife (keeping an important relationship to the front)

–   He swims and lifts weights (physical exercise improves mental health and helps build realistic goals) 

PTSD is Not Fate

All of the above items apply to any form of PTSD, military or civilian.  You and I do not have to be destroyed by our PTSD.  PTSD is Not Fate.  If my PTSD is the result of an assault here in the USA, I will still benefit from the soul restoring activities listed above.  If I suffer an illness and have chronic pain, I can have PTSD, and the above list can help me stay alive.

 Thankfully, some Americans are starting to realize the total cost of PTSD, not just its medical side, but its spiritual dimensions.  More veterans can come out of the closet and seek help for their PTSD.  And, those who have PTSD from non-military sources can also acknowledge what is eating them and seek to restore their souls.  Remember, you have value.

 Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

  2. Everything dynamic and very positively! 🙂

  3. Hello,
    Amazing! Not clear for me, how offen you updating your

    • Hello, Thank you. I am trying to update with 2-4 posts a week depending on my health and teaching schedule. Semper Pax, Dr. Z


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