Gary Cone was one among many Vietnam Veterans that had a difficult time dealing with the horrors of the gruesome war. Drugs and alcohol became his escape from life. Not being able to deal with the images that continued to fill his mind long after the war was over, he drugged himself up to dull and block out the pain. He also had to deal with his uncontrolled fits of rage and anger that somehow took over his body with out his consciousness. He was depressed with no real understanding of what was his problem(Dicks 13-17).
Cane was not alone though. Many of the Vietnam Veterans experienced the same symptoms. They were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Returning home and adjusting to normal civilian life was the ultimate goal for many of the men and women that served in the Vietnam War. For the majority of Americans the Vietnam War is over and long forgotten, but many of the veterans still live the horror of this unpleasant, painful event.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the problem that many United States Veterans face in their daily lives. Soldiers that return from war often experience traumatic nightmares and daytime images during which recollections of the war haunt their memory. They often battle with substance abuse, violent tempers, and depression. This makes it hard for them to reintegrate into society. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a widespread problem in the post war era.
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For some Vietnam Veterans the PTSD symptoms that they experienced are severe and prevalent. On the other hand, not all symptoms are always noticed because many do not associate these psychological problems with war. Other times the symptoms are ignored.
There are three classifications of the symptoms of PTSD. Reexperiencing the traumatic event, which occurs in nightmares or daytime images, results in painful and unpleasant memories(Kulka 31).
The horrible recollections can not be controlled by the individual, this is what makes the disorder so distressing. There are four symptoms that are classified into the reexperiencing category: “recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event; recurrent distressing dreams of the event; sudden act or feeling as if the trauma was recurring (for example flashbacks); intense psychological distress at the exposure to events that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event, including anniversaries of the trauma”(Kulka 41).
Only one of these four symptoms need to be present to be diagnosed with PTSD. If the person has more than one of these symptoms, their disorder is considered to be more severe than that of the person who only has one of the symptoms (Kulka 40).
Avoidance of the causes associated with the event, or numbing of ones senses, making it harder for an individual to respond and function normally, is the next symptom. Avoidance symptomatology purposely avoids the thoughts and feelings of the horrific event. The sufferer also abstains from activities or situations that may trigger recollections of a specific trauma. Numbing of the responsiveness or “emotional anesthesia” is commonly described as “feelings of detachment or estrangement from other people; loss of the ability to become interested and vitally involved in the previously pleasurable activities; and diminishing capacity to experience emotions of any type, particularly those associated with intimacy, tenderness, sexuality, and grief”(Kulka 42).
Such examples include feeling alienation from close personal friends and family members. The final major symptom of PTSD is increased arousal which can be detected when a veteran has trouble sleeping, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, high levels of energy, easily startled by noises and movements, and reactions to recollections of the traumatic event. Veterans who have these symptoms are constantly observing their surroundings and anticipating something to happen(Kulka 45).
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People have always gathered in communities and organizations to help with outside challenges, but those diagnosed with PTSD must suffer an even tougher challenge. A challenge that separates them from society. The Vietnam conflict was largely controversial, and everyone had many different opinions. One key function of the human society is to provide institutions and value systems that can protect an individual from harsh, stressful situations. Religion is an important example that helps the veteran face terrifying realities, which helps them rise above their individual sufferings(Kolk 25).
Certainly the abandonment by society was a large factor of the Post Traumatic Stress reaction experienced by the veterans. “Society emphasized guilt, and encouraged repression(Kelly 47).
A reason society separated from Vietnam Veterans was the actual lack of distinction between society and the Vietnam Veterans themselves. One myth included their uncontrolled violence. Brewin (1975) noted that virtually every portrayal of Vietnam veterans was one of drug abusers, killers, or potential , if not actual psychotics, and frequently all three”(Kelly 48).
Drugs and alcohol may have been an easy way out for many of the Vietnam Veterans. Because they did not know how to cope with their disorder, they turned to substances that would cover up and block out unwanted thoughts and memories. In a PTSD investigation at a drug rehabilitation clinic, it was discovered that there was a very strong association between PTSD and drug abuse in 59% of the cases(KOLK 168).
The drug that is selected by the individual might have to do with the PTSD symptom that they experience. Cocaine is used as an antidepressant, while heroine helps to dull feelings of aggression and rage. Alcohol is the oldest and most common drug used by PTSD patients. It is used as a medication for sleep disturbances, nightmares, and other PTSD symptoms(Kolk 191).
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substance abuse is frequently found in veterans that have experienced high levels of war zone stress(Kulka 283).
The use of these substances is thought to diminish the stress and torturous feelings of PTSD, and is used as self medication. For both men and women generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse are very prevalent symptoms(Kulka 88).
The substance abuse disorders include alcohol abuse and dependence, and drug abuse and dependence. Substance abuse is a disorder characterized as a behavior in which there is regular and/or heavy use of drugs or alcohol. These behaviors include: dependence; a feeling that one has to intake a large amount of substances to feel an effect; not being able to function normally; withdrawal symptoms when one tries to quit; and large or frequent intake(Kulka 96).
In a test done by the National Survey of the Vietnam Generation (NSVG) alcohol abuse and dependence was by far the most prevalent symptom found on Vietnam Veterans. 39.2% of the veterans said they had this disorder at one time. 11.25 said that they had this disorder in the past six months. In comparison, the closet disorder to alcohol abuse was generalized anxiety disorder. 14.1% had the disorder at one time and 4.5% had it in the past six months (Kulka 269).
Considering violence played a significant role in the Vietnam war itself, it is not surprising that the violence is one of the leading symptoms of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The uncontrolled behavior does not only frighten the surrounding people but also the victim of the disease. The aggression and rage that the Vietnam Veteran may experience can be triggered by very small events. The individual with PTSD may become very anxious in an area that is filled with commotion, noise, or in a crowded area(Kelly 268).
Their outbursts may include physical harm to others or themselves.
Depression often plague the veterans on their return home from war. They were not able to enjoy life, questioning the reason for living in the first place. They felt guilty and out of place around the people at home who could never understand the hardships they had to undergo.
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When a person is depressed for a period of two weeks or more they are considered to be experiencing to be having a major depressive episode. This results in feeling very down and low, loss of interest in activities, loss of appetite, sleeping problems, and many more symptoms. Dysthymia is also a form of depression. Like major depressive episode, one feels down and low. Dythymia is more severe than major depressive episode yet less persistent(Kulka 88).
Depression was one of the most common disorders in both male and female veterans.
Gary Cone is a prime example of all of these Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. At nineteen Gary volunteered to go to Vietnam. He started to get into drugs that were given to him by the army medics. A bag of Opium could be bought for ten dollars. Cone was a supply specialist for the first infantry division. Although he did not see war directly, he saw the effects in the Emergency Room. “You could not keep the blood mopped up. There were many boys with severed arms and legs.” He eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant where one of his jobs was to remove bodies from fields, some of whom were his friends. The horror of this became to much for Gary and he began to use drugs regularly, such as speed and opium.
After a year Cone was discharged from the army and returned home where the war still followed him. Cone robbed gas stations and convenient stores to get drug money. He was arrested and sentenced to twenty five years in prison. While in jail Cone’s father died and his girlfriend was rapped and killed. Drugs were the medication he used for the pain. Torturous images of Vietnam filled his mind every time he closed his eyes. “I never knew what was going on around me and barely knew what I was doing.”
Once paroled Cone fell back into trouble. He started robbing stores for money again, but this time he wasn’t as fortunate. Hiding from the police after robbing a jewelry store, Cone broke into a house to get some food to eat for his starving body. War images constantly filled his thoughts. When he left that house, two people inside were dead.
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Cone insists that he does not remember killing anyone. He thought he was back in Vietnam and it cost him his life, for he know waits on death row(Dicks 13-17).
It is sad that many Vietnam Veterans diagnosed with PTSD do receive proper medical attention. However, many veterans get help through VA and non-VA services(Kulka 201).
Some veterans have been able to resolve their problems themselves, or through families that offer support, while others heal their wounds through associations such as church. Only professional mental health experts can pin point an individuals diagnosis of PTSD, but experts are still skeptical about treatment. An important treatment for PTSD is for veterans to be able to associate with other sufferers. They can do this through group therapy and support groups(Kulka 286-287).
Aside from the ways to get treatment, many veterans could suffer from psychological disorders such as brain damage, seizures, and altered states of consciousness(Kelly246).
Due to substance abuse and behavioral problems, doctors become skeptical about prescribing self medication to veterans with PTSD. Self medication was usually limited to creams and items such as antacids. Generally, the most frequent medication ordered for PTSD patients are tricyclics for depression, and Dalmane for sleep(Kelly 277).
So there is hope and help for Vietnam Veterans that suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cane’s story is not the only story of a veteran that dealt with drug problems, suffered depression, and struggled with violence. He was just one of the unfortunate ones.