I Always Sit with My Back To The Wall: Why I Wrote The Book
The Beginnings of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
I came to San Antonio in 1973 to serve in the US Army Medical Corps at Ft. Sam Houston. I was the medical director of the Army’s drug and alcohol program on post. It was towards the end of the Vietnam conflict and we never lacked for soldiers to occupy our treatment beds.
Almost without exception the soldiers we treated for their dependence or abuse of alcohol, heroin, marijuana or other drugs of abuse also had symptoms we now know to be part of PTSD. But in 1973 there was no name for this disorder – the name PTSD did not come into being until 1980, five years after Vietnam conflict ended. We had little clue about how to help these young men and women other than to treat their substance abuse.
As a physician, I did what I was told to do, advised those with symptoms of anger, social withdrawal, increased startle responses and vigilance and other PTSD symptoms to get friends, get a family, get a job, stop being angry all the time, get a grip – get a life! This was advice I knew was inadequate, but we had little else to offer for the PTSD symptoms.
My Formal Work in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
About 10 years ago I got the opportunity through a company contracting with Veteran’s Affairs (the VA) to perform disability exams on those suffering from PTSD. In addition to gathering the information needed to write the reports required, I began to really listen to what these vets (and often their spouses or children) had to tell me. How for years they talked to no one about their experiences in Nam, or their symptoms. Many had gone to the VA in the 1970s or 1980s and felt shunned by the system and decided to never go back there again.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Survivors Speak Out
As I heard the stories and symptoms experienced by the vets in my office many of the spouses and family members were hearing these stories for the very first time. Most of those with PTSD don’t like to talk about their combat experiences, but those returning from Nam had another issue – the country had turned not only on the war, but on the vets themselves. In uniform, I, myself, was called baby killer, monster and worse.
As I spoke with the Veterans I evaluated I heard over and over:
“You know I took all my medals and military paraphernalia – put them in a shoe box high up in my closet and decided I would never look at them again.”
After talking to me during the evaluation, many decided they would actually get the box down and share their experiences with others, including their family members.
The Beginnings of I Always Sit with my Back to the Wall
I realized from the evaluations the need of these veterans and their families for good, useful, and hopeful information about their condition, and began writing a short paper that I would give out. The response was heartwarming – for the first time vets and their families understood why did and felt the things they did.
We talk about PTSD as if everyone understands it, but my experiences with more than 7000 vets over the past 10 years has convinced me that there is a crying need for more comprehensive and encouraging information about PTSD and how to deal with it. I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall is the outgrowth of the recognition of this need.
I am honored to have served, talked to vets and family members, and to have written the book.