John Hamill, a medic with the 173 Airborne Brigade (the Herd) in Vietnam in 1967-1968, explained to me the connection between war time trauma and what happens after a veteran returns home:
I think a lot of Vietnam veterans didn’t really start doing themselves in, suicide, drinking themselves to death until five or six years after the war ended. Things got worse for a lot of those guys. After the initial rush of being home they’re so disappointed. I said, “Why?” You come home, you’re safe, you feel good, you have that euphoric burst initially, you know, and then you get married, you get divorced, your fucking job sucks and then you start trying to trace it back and you can’t get any further back than Dac To. And . . you get stuck on that, you know.
It didn’t really kick in, though, immediately. It’s sort of like a traumatic amputation. You get your hand shot off. It doesn’t bleed for an hour because all the muscles spasm and they hold back and then “shww,” and they relax and it starts to come out. Then it comes a gusher. I think that’s what happened to a lot of guys. And there was no interim kind of treatment.
PTSD was not diagnosed until it was too late, just like Agent Orange.
It’s like, ‘Shit.’
John Hamill is profiled in my book Bringing It All Back Home.