Tribute to our Benefactors

After my retirement, my wife and I settled in the South Carolinian low country.  I came to this place to die and to be buried alongside ancestors, who fought in America’s earlier wars. My intentions were to settle my wife before passing on to a better place. I suffered from wounds and injuries due to combat in Vietnam, as well as the complications of an aging wounded warrior. Army doctors had diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a condition that complicates life due to the stress of anger, anxiety, and depression that characterize the disorder. My physical condition steadily declined. The signs were unmistakable. My hearing, vision and even walking became chronic problems, as did skin cancer – the result of exposure to Agent Orange. Pain was a constant companion, which over time made exercising difficult. I put on weight. My explosive temper made friendships problematic; and I settled into the life of an angry recluse.

I medicated my PTSD with alcohol. Unfortunately, my temper and depression made life difficult for my wife. She insisted that I seek help from the VA. I went to a VA clinic and was scheduled to see a resident doctor. He found multiple problems that required treatment. He insisted that I begin an exercise program. He made an appointment for me with Doctor Fahy, the staff Psychiatrist. When I met Doctor Fahy, I was walking with crutches to ease the pain of old back injuries I had recently aggravated. He asked where the crutches came from. I responded that the Army issued them to me following a gunshot wound. Doctor Fahy prescribed medication for my stress, anxiety and temper. He asked if I had a problem with alcohol and I replied, “No problem.  I have plenty of beer and wine in the garage and there’s more where that came from.” He was not amused and strictly limited my use of alcohol.

The medication had an immediate impact on my psychological condition, which improved dramatically. The anxiety, depression and anger were reduced overnight. At Doctor Fahy’s suggestion, I began attending weekly meetings of the PTSD therapy group. I found the group discussions disturbing.  Listening to the discussions I felt my temper getting out of control. They brought back ugly memories I never wanted to think about as long as I lived. I complained to Dr. Fahy saying the discussions were useless. He scheduled me for more appointments and encouraged me to continue to meet with the therapy group.  Over time, I came to know the members of the group, especially the veterans with long service in combat units. We became friends and formed an informal support group. We met for coffee between therapy sessions, where we shared war stories; and we discussed memories of combat that haunted us still.

I had come to the home of my ancestors to die, but I did not die. I am alive and a member of a support group that has helped me during difficult times. Tragically, our support group lost senior leaders with much to share, men who had struggled with PTSD and helped others to cope with their demons – the ugly memories that haunt us still. We repeatedly saw close friends and leaders in the group sicken and die, often in a matter of days. Despite the loss of close companions, new veterans have joined the therapy group with difficult problems as those who came before them did.

It may sound trite, but I have no doubt that the VA saved my life. I could not cope with life until the VA treated my problems — physical, psychological, and social – transforming my life in the process. I no longer depend upon alcohol to get through the day. My pain, depression and anger are under semi-control, although I still have periodic meltdowns and continue to be a recluse. I do not associate with those who persecuted veterans upon our return home. I associate with fellow combat veterans with whom I am at peace.

I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the doctors, specialists, psychiatrists and administrators of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Without your help, I could not have made it to greet this morning with new promise of unfulfilled expectations. My family thanks you too, as does Clancy my Labrador retriever.

Andy O’Meara, Pawleys Island, SC, 1 August 2010

  1. Alan Phillips says:

    Andy, keep up the fight. All the best to you and yours in 2011. Al

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