Vetting Veterans: Group helps veterans overcome PTSD
June 25, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The motto of the South Carolina Combat Veterans Group is "All Gave Some -- Some Gave All -- Some Still Do."
I experienced the "all gave some," as I looked at a picture of my son's friend who suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost an eye to an IED in Iraq.
"Some gave all," hit home as I wept at a memorial service honoring my husband's tank gunner, who was killed in action.
The meaning of "some still do," became clear as I interviewed Tom Olds, commander of South Carolina Combat Veterans Group, and Larry Smalls, operations officer, and saw a pain in their eyes that went to the core of their souls.
During our conversation, I realized these men were fighting their own personal battles, while helping others cope with post traumatic stress disorder.
Most of the veterans' stories begin on a battlefield with a Soldier facing such intense and traumatic combat that he or she may not be able to talk about it for years.
Some returned to an ungrateful nation that made it hard for them to wear the uniform. This caused feelings of guilt, which led to flashbacks and social isolation.
Sometimes these Soldiers felt like they were the only ones dealing with such internal conflict.
Wounds in the soul, the mind and the spirit often do not heal over time. After years of silent suffering, the veteran decides to seek help at the Dorn VA Medical Center and becomes a part of an amazing group.
The S.C. Combat Veterans Group was organized at the medical center as a therapeutic support group for combat veterans suffering from PTSD. It has grown from a small group to more than 400 members.
Once the combat veteran is an outpatient at the hospital, he or she may join the group. The veteran then joins a peer-to-peer counseling group that uses humor, music and an atmosphere of brotherly love to promote understanding and healing.
The group is also spiritual, praying together and relying on their faith through the tough times. It is easier for the veterans to accept certain therapeutic actions when coming from someone who has experienced combat.
Group members continue to participate in cookouts for churches and hospitals, and attend sporting events to become more comfortable in larger groups. Leaning on each other, they can learn to be proud of their service and lead a happier, richer life.
Olds explained the group is on a "patrol for healing," and is always searching for veterans in the community in need of help, including outreach programs for homeless veterans. Smalls said before he found the group, it was like "living in a closet."
He said he does not know where he would be without the group. The two are extremely grateful to the veterans who have helped them heal. The bond they have with their fellow comrades means everything to them, and they are very proud of the success of the group.
The Combat Veterans Group thanks the staff members at the Dorn VA for their kind and caring support.
The group recently celebrated Vietnam Veterans Survivor and Remembrance Day at the VA Medical Center. In 2006, South Carolina became the first state to appoint an official Day of Remembrance for Vietnam Veterans.
Each year, members of the group travel to the Vietnam Wall and to the Vietnam Memorial in Columbia to honor those who gave all. In the community, they provide funeral details for fallen comrades and funeral assistance, including funds collected from the members.
Remember, the journey for some of these veterans has been long and hard. It has been almost 35 years since the end of the Vietnam War. It has taken them a long time to wear their Vietnam Veterans hat with pride.
The next time veterans wearing a uniform of black pants, wine-colored shirt, and a floppy bush hat cross your path, remember to give them a smile, a hug, a pat on the back or a much overdue, "Thank You," for their service.