What You Can Do for Your Country: Cross-Generational Support for Today’s PTSD Veterans

Vol. 23 No. 3

By

James T. O’Reilly, who teaches administrative law and related subjects at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, hung up his E-5 boots in 1972. He has worked on veterans issues as chair of the ABA Administrative Law Section and as an Ohio elected official and a Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor advocate.

Donald D. Black of Indiana proudly wore the Army Ranger patch through extensive Vietnam combat, survived wounds of several types as an E-6, and today serves as a volunteer peer counselor for his fellow PTSD veterans from later wars.

Readers of Experience are quite familiar with stories relating to the passing of wisdom from one generation to the next. But seldom is the need for sharing the generational wisdom of counselors as great as it is for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are experiencing the harsh consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We, the authors of this article, are each proud to be veterans of the Army’s Vietnam era. One of us is an aging veterans’ advocate and law professor; the other is an active volunteer peer counselor, a decorated Ranger, and now an advisor to fellow PTSD veterans of the younger generation. We appreciate the reader’s willingness to consider ways in which you, the senior lawyer with or without military experience, can fill a real need in our nation today.

We are energetic midwesterners in our mid-sixties, successful in our endeavors beyond our military service, but with a profound sense of duty toward younger veterans. In our generation, few could even spell PTSD, and the staff of the Veterans Administration (VA) focused greatly on the visible, physical wounds of World War II, Korea, and a wave of incoming survivors of the Mekong, Central Highlands, DMZ, and other jungle battlegrounds in Southeast Asia. Military medicine has come a long way.

Today, PTSD seems to be a well- studied affliction of younger veterans, but the ranks of helpers are thin. Would this be a good use of your volunteer time? Have you teared up at “the Wall,” the long, low monument along Washington’s Mall that remembers our dead companions? Our sense of duty to those comrades compels us to recruit some of you who are elders and counselors. We who are older veterans carry the credibility needed to do “listening therapy,” to describe and disarm the phenomenon of PTSD among recent war veterans before it leads to aberrant behavior and violent hostilities. Perhaps you could march with us into this role.

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