04 July 2016


Hi.  My name is Mac and I have combat-related PTSD.

When I am in a store or a restaurant, I always make it a point to ask to see the manager when a clerk or server has done a good job.  You see, I know that it is human nature to complain when a service provider fails to measure up, but the over-performers never get a word of praise.  And I have noticed that when I return to a lot of these places, the standard of service across the board is often improved.

The Veterans Administration has taken some hard hits in the past year.  As a result, there has been a lot of piling on.  On Facebook, I have seen an increase in the number of Tee shirts criticizing the VA being offered for sale.  Most of them are cheap shots.  And it is a shame.

I know that there are bad actors in any outfit, and that includes the VA.  Why government employees get bonuses for just doing their jobs is a puzzle--and obviously, an over-powering temptation to the corrupt few?  But that is, I think, the exception, not the rule.

I treat at the VAMC, Coatesville, PA.  They have literally saved my life.  And I give the major part of the credit in my case to Laura Hertz, PhD.  Doctor Hertz is one of those people who give human beings a good name.  I am sure she could be making a lot more money treating the "beautiful people" suffering from the ravages of too much money, too much success, and too much public adulation!  Instead, she takes care of “those who have born the battle”, and now enjoy, in my case, “Vietnam, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Six years ago, I came within about a pound and a half of trigger pull from taking the easy way out.  I’m still not sure why that two-and-a-half hour struggle in a dark cold woods didn’t turn out the way I expected it to, but it did.  I ended up in VAMC, Coatesville, in a program with some of the best men I have known.  Together, we learned that when one man said “And I figured that I was the only one who felt that way,” 15 or 20 other guys were nodding and saying “Me, too.”  

Now, I had been treating with Dr Hertz for about a year when this happened.  The first night I was in the hospital, they came and got me because “You have a visitor.”  It was after 2100, and I could not imagine who it could be.  It was Dr Hertz, tears in her eyes, come to apologize for “failing me.”  Bless her heart—why should she have seen it in our last session 6 days earlier when I didn’t see it coming only 24 hours earlier?  The hardest part for me was to admit to her that for six months, I had been lying to her. Tough guy stuff, you know?  “Oh, I’m fine.”  “Nah, no suicide thoughts,” I would say with fingers crossed.  How did that work out, Marine?

And at the end of my in-patient treatment, I was fully prepared for her to say that she did not want to treat me anymore.  I guess that “Never leave anyone behind” thing  is taught in places other than Parris Island, San Diego, and Quantico.  

Why she can see so deeply into things that are still cloudy to me I don’t know, but she does. Understand me, she can be tough as nails when she needs to be, and because she has earned our respect, she can have the hard Dutch Uncle talks with us when necessary.  Petite little fireball she may be, but she could teach some Gunnery Sergeants a trick or two about presence and bearing.   For the guys and gals in our group, she is as accepted as any vet.  She knows things about me that no one on earth knows—and cares anyway.  I guess that’s it: she cares anyway.


First, to the youngest batch of vets I say, “If the dreams, or the anger, or the numbness, or the lack of trust shows up, get help.  Take care of it now, with folks who understand.  I assure you that it will be better to try now than to wait for 40 years as I did.  It is like a boil, left untreated.  The putrefaction is going to come out anyway, but if you wait, it is going to be some REALLY nasty stuff!”

Second, the vets I know at the VA are warriors who have, in many cases, been fighting the good fight for nearly half a century.  There is no shame in asking for help. 

Finally, to the rest of you—your Department of Veterans Affairs is doing a pretty damned good job. If you want to complain, please be specific.  The treatment professionals—the Nurses who help a sobbing vet way from the commode where he has just thrown up because the memories of shipmates lost got too bad, the psychologists who spend multiple sessions getting to the root of one terrible memory, the psychiatrists who make sure meds are the right ones in the right amounts—they are doing a great job. 

If there is any legitimate complaint, it is this.  After the Arizona fiasco, Coatesville suddenly had all sorts of construction of new offices where waiting rooms had been.  Sadly, the offices seem to be occupied by new bureaucrats monitoring other bureaucrats who monitor….well, you get my drift.

Tell your Congresscritters, your Senators, that they should ignore the unions and the make-works and just get more docs and nurses in place and then get out of their way. And shoot the accountants—the idea that you can tell someone that it should only take 2.36458791 visits to peel away a 40 year old onion of memories is, well, stupid.  But I digress….

Instead send us just one more Laura Hertz: she will amaze you, saving lives and earning the undying respect and gratitude of the vets she saves!



Unknown said...

I don't have PTSD. I never faced the things Mac and others like him did. My time in the land of the "pop-up, shoot back targets" was relatively benign, for which I am grateful everyday.

I just started using the VA last year when the hearing loss from years of rifle fire, unmuffled tracked vehicles and unsquelched radio earphones got so bad I couldn't hear the dialogue on "Game of Thrones." I have been highly impressed with the treatment, care and routine competence at my local VA here in Lake City FL. For the life of me I cannot imagine that the horrors presented by the media were as bad as alleged.

Mac said...

Huh? What was that? Just kidding, Brother. Thanks for dropping by. The door is always open, coffee on the fire.

Tinnitus and HF hearing loss was my first introduction to the VA, too--no earplugs in RVN! I must admit, I have really gotten attached to close captioning when it is not a live broadcast.

Semper Fi.