Mental Health Forum to Concentrate on Issues Related to Military Service; Navy Retiree Author to Discuss Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

The image that haunts Art Schmitt happened on a day that began in bright sunshine.

As he flew his helicopter above a brackish bay in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, a group of what appeared to be peasants in a sampan suddenly opened fire, revealing themselves as Viet Cong on what Schmitt concluded was a suicide mission.

He returned fire with deadly efficiency.

"This incident added to the list of my recurring dreams affected by my post-traumatic stress syndrome," Schmitt writes in his new book A War With No Name. "It always ends the same way, the pool of red water surrounding the boat in the brown water bay and bodies floating in the murky water."

Schmitt, who lives in Charleston, S.C., will be among the featured guests at Wednesday's annual Forum and Luncheon of the Mental Health Association of Northeast Florida. This year's forum at the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel will concentrate on mental health issues related to the military, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, said Susan Siemer, president of the Mental Health Association.

When Schmitt first told his old friend, retired Rear Adm. Kevin Delaney of Jacksonville, that he was writing a book with the subtitle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Survivor's Story, Delaney said it brought home to him in a way nothing had before how insidious the disorder can be.

"If it can happen to that guy, it can happen to anybody," said Delaney, who was at the beginning of his Navy career when he served as co-pilot to Schmitt during Schmitt's third tour of duty in Vietnam.

Schmitt will participate in the panel discussion and sign copies of his book before and after the luncheon. Delaney, who wrote a foreword to Schmitt's book and is former commander of the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, also will speak during the luncheon.

Schmitt served 22 years in the Navy and retired in 1977, ending his military career the same day he was awarded a doctorate in psychology.

Although post-traumatic stress disorder has been around for as long as humans have engaged in or coped with violent and life-threatening situations -- it was called Soldier's Heart after the Civil War, shell shock during World War I and combat fatigue during World War II, Schmitt writes -- there was a stigma attached that made people reluctant to seek treatment, he said. …