More Vietnam Vets Seeking PTSD Help

By Robbins, Richard | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

More Vietnam Vets Seeking PTSD Help


Robbins, Richard, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Forty-three years ago, Marine Corps infantryman Marcus Merwin was three weeks shy of escaping Vietnam unscathed.

On Sept. 13, 1966, Merwin was with a small ground patrol near Da Nang when the sergeant in charge spotted a narrow opening through jungle brush. Merwin was through the opening when a "bouncing betty" land mine planted by the Viet Cong exploded and killed the two Marines behind him.

One of the dead was a newcomer to the unit. After only three days in Vietnam, Jason Bruce of Boston, was sliced in half by the explosion. Charles Lenartowicz of Philadelphia was riddled with shrapnel. Both men died instantly.

Merwin, a military radio strapped to his back, called for an evacuation helicopter. It was then he noticed blood dripping from his arm. Treated at a field hospital for a minor wound, Merwin was quickly released back to duty. He lifted off from Vietnam for good on Oct. 2, 1966.

He escaped death but not a lifetime of guilt. For more than four decades, Merwin said, he was a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis that was not officially adopted by the American Psychological Association until 1980. Before then, PTSD symptoms went by other names, including "shell shock."

For years, the Monroeville man said, he led a "double life," working for the Postal Service while struggling to suppress the dark memories of Vietnam.

It was a life lived in the shadow of war. It remained that way until a new conflict-- in Iraq -- pushed Merwin into treatment.

He's not alone. The number of Vietnam vets receiving PTSD treatment more than doubled between 1997 and 2005, swelling from 91,043 to 189,309, according to the latest figures available from the government.

The "sharp recent growth" in PTSD treatment among Vietnam veterans is "puzzling" to Robert A. Rosenheck and Alan F. Fontana of the VA New England Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center.

"Combat ended in Vietnam 30 years ago, and a growing volume of veterans seeking help for PTSD would not have been expected so long after the traumatic events took place," they said in their article in the journal Health Affairs.

It doesn't puzzle Dave McPeak. A Vietnam veteran himself, McPeak has been counseling vets at the VA Vets Center in Greentree since its opening in 1980.

A licensed psychologist, McPeak attributes the increase to several factors, including retirement. …

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