Bill: I didn’t want to go to any kind of functions especially with groups of people, even family members. I just stayed isolated from the family totally.
Narrator: Bill Brown, age 64, is describing the effect his experience as a soldier in Vietnam had on family and work life once he returned from the war.
Bill: I would go to work every day, until something would set me off. Then I wouldn’t go, I wouldn’t go for two to three weeks at a time. I would just stay at home, drink and just go into my basement. My basement was my bunker. It was my safety net.
Narrator: What Bill would find out 30 years later was that his wartime experience had led to an anxiety disorder – PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Evans: Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is when you develop symptoms of anxiety after a traumatic event or experience. You may have actually been the victim of the event or you may know someone who’s been in that type of event or you might have seen it yourself happen to someone else.
Narrator: The events that Bill witnessed during the war were extremely traumatic-- including the killing of his platoon sergeant.
Bill: My platoon sergeant he had five kids, he shouldn’t have been... he was on his way home, but we were shorthanded that day and he went out and the next thing you look up and he’s gone. That was my worst hurt. That was my worst…that was my worst experience of him being that short and dying like that. That was my worst experience.
Narrator: The effect on Bill was immediate -- and overwhelming.
Bill: I kept reliving the experiences I was going through.Didn’t know what it was; kept having the flashbacks, the night sweats, the waking up in the middle of the night, the screaming
Narrator: Recovery from anxiety disorders like PTSD takes time, but with proper treatment, it is possible.
Dr. Evans: All anxiety disorders are very treatable with either cognitive behavioral therapy or medications or a combination of the two.
Narrator: Dr. Kris Morris treated Bill at the VA medical center in Washington D.C. She says that his problems were typical of others who suffer from this disorder.
Dr. Morris: Many times the person living with PTSD doesn’t actually know what those symptoms are. They just know, you know, I’m not getting along with people in my family, I’m having a really hard time at work, I’m irritable all the time, I don’t want to go anywhere anymore and those behaviors do cause a lot of consequences in life.
Narrator: With Bill, she used a therapy called Prolonged Exposure, which prompts people to engage in activities they may have been avoiding out of fear, such as being among crowds.
Dr. Morris: In Prolonged Exposure what we do is we ask people to be in a crowd long enough for them to learn that the crowd itself is actually not dangerous and that the anxiety that they are experiencing in that situation will come down if they allow themselves to stay in a situation for long enough and frequently enough.
Narrator: The Prolonged Exposure therapy was the first treatment that really worked for Bill.
Bill: It takes about a six week class and at times it was real rough. And you have to keep going over and over it. You get recorded and you also have to record the sessions and then a lot of times when you, even when you left. Even I was having flashbacks when I was driving along the road, something would remind me of Vietnam. I would have the flashbacks and I had that recording and I could replay the recording over again, telling myself that it’s not dangerous. That’s what finally got me through it.
Narrator: Bill continues to attend PTSD aftercare programs at the VA and although he is not fully recovered, he has made great strides in coping with this disorder which has consumed his life for so many years.
Bill: I have a good relationship with my wife now. I have a good relationship even with my kids now, especially with my oldest boy. We’re still not as close as I want to be, but we are on better terms.
Narrator: Dr. Morris says that Bill’s recovery from PTSD is reflected in his improved quality of life.
Dr. Morris: So I think he’s doing great. I do, I think he’s doing great. He’s closer to his family. He’s communicating more with people. At one point he didn’t want his grandkids near him because they were too close. In therapy he worked on letting his grandkids sit on him, you know cuddle up to him. I think now he watches cartoons with them.
Narrator: And Bill has a message for those who may be suffering with PTSD.
Bill: Get help. Get help. Come here or find some source, for the PTSD.