Dan Carson (Page 2)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The Invisible Wound
Dan Carson speaking at the OPHSA 2003 reunion
The following remarks were made by Dan Carson during the “recollections” session of the 2003 OPHSA Reunion.
A poem was just read which mentioned those who came back with “broken bodies and shattered minds”. I’m one of those whose mind was damaged, if not shattered at OP Harry. About a year after I returned home to New York from Korea in May of ’54, I began to have nightmares when sleeping and panic attacks while driving my car.
I also had problems while walking across open spaces like an empty parking lot; feeling shivers of fear when out in the open. I began to feel fear just by walking out of my house. Sometimes it was so bad I had to go back home without doing whatever I had set out to do. Sometimes that meant not going to work.
I became very short tempered and this interfered with my relationships both at home and work. I lost several jobs by either quitting or getting fired when I lost my temper. At home my wife and children took the brunt of my angry outbursts.
There were times I thought it might be connected in some way with Korea, but it started almost two years after the action on Harry, and I wasn’t even on that hill when it was attacked. I was in the signal company photo section. I made aerial photos from an L-19 and some after-action photos of damage following the Chinese attacks.
I didn’t think my participation at Harry was as bad as the experience the infantrymen had. They fought and died on Harry. I felt guilty about the fact that I didn’t do as much as they did. So I didn’t believe Harry had anything to do with whatever was wrong with me. Sometime the guilt was worse than the fears.
These symptoms seemed to come in waves. I had really serious problems for several years, and then I’d get some relief for several years. Then it would come back – usually worse. I dismissed the possibility this had anything to do with Korea. I believed there was something wrong with my mind, but I didn’t know what it was.
I found that taking a drink seemed to relieve my feelings and I felt it helped me to function on bad days. Pretty soon every day was a bad day, and I needed to drink. Around 1959 I saw a doctor and told him a little about what was going on with me. He prescribed tranquilizers. They seemed to help. Pretty soon I was taking tranquilizers in the morning to get through the day and drinking in the evening to get some sleep.
About 20 years after that doctor’s visit, things were still getting worse so I saw another doctor. I told him a little about my drinking and use of the pills. He switched me to different tranquilizers and told me to cut down my drinking. I did use the different tranquilizers but I could not cut down my drinking. Not much changed. I kept getting worse.
Finally in 1985 I was diagnosed with serious liver trouble. I went to a counselor who insisted I go to AA and stop the drinking and the pills. I did that, and for a while I felt better. I then decided the booze and pills were my problem and I thought it was solved. Against the counselors advice I stopped seeing her, and I thought everything was fine.
Not everything was fine, though. My drinking and drugging had irreversibly damaged my marriage and I was divorced. Gradually the fears and guilt started creeping back into my life. I didn’t start drinking and doing the pills again but I seriously thought about committing suicide some other, quicker way. My mind was in such a mess I couldn’t figure out how to do it.
By 1996 I had married for the second time, and moved to Hawaii. By 2001 this second marriage was deteriorating too; I was not easy to get along with. My second wife left me to return to New York, and I was alone and practically destitute in Hawaii. I lived in a furnished room; I had no health insurance and my social security was barely enough to live on.
A friend who knew I was a Korean War Vet took me to the VA. I was enrolled because I was “below the income threshold”. I was asked a lot of questions. One was, Are you allergic to anything? I answered, “alcohol”. The nurse asked me if I meant I was an alcoholic. I said yes. She told me I should see their Mental Health people. I got angry and said, “What for, I haven’t had a drink in over 17 years – it’s ancient history.”
She smiled sweetly and said, “No it’s not, we’ve learned a lot about PTSD since the Korean War.” It was the first time I ever heard of PTSD, and I asked her what it was. She told me Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The VA recognized it as a problem among combat vets in 1985. She said, “You may be eligible for compensation.”
That did get my attention, but even so I was reluctant to go see the Mental Health people. Finally my doctor ordered a consult with a Mental Health counselor who was an expert on PTSD. After a couple of sessions with him and several weekly group-therapy sessions, I realized I do indeed have PTSD.
I filed a claim with the VA after four months of treatment, and now I am receiving a monthly compensation check. But by now I’ve found out the real payoff for going to the VA has been the progress I’ve made though treatment for my PTSD. My attitudes and my life have changed completely and I’m very grateful.
If you think you or someone you know might have PTSD, please do something about it. It does not go away, it only gets worse. The VA does have treatment programs that work. They know there are many Korea and WWII veterans who have this disorder and don’t even know they do. The VA wants to help them. A screening test can be done to decide if the disorder is present. Just do it!
Today I don’t think the compensation is as important to me as the treatment and the resulting improvement in my life. But at the beginning, the magic words that got me started were; “You may be eligible for compensation!”
Dan would be happy to answer your questions on PTSD by phone, email or letter
©Copyright 2002, 2007, Dan Carson. All rights reserved