(Flickr photo by Big Grey Mare)
Veterans and Home is the topic of our last Our Northwest Home interview. Thom Kokenge speaks with WSU Clinical Professor, Bill Dougherty, a Vietnam era veteran who has worked for the Veteran’s Administration. He specializes in PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder.
Kokenge: Soldiers at war idealize “home” more than anyone. According to Bill Dougherty, having a home to return to is critical for their health and well-being.Dougherty: It’s that place where people are glad to see you. They want you to come in and you’re part of their community, a part of their family.
Kokenge: As we grow up - if home is a safe place, we develop trust in the world. When we build positive attachments at home as children we can later bond with friends, spouses and institutions. Home allows us to take initiative. Whether we succeed or fail, we are accepted.
For soldiers who are taking incredible physical risks on foreign ground, having a home to return to brings an immense source of comfort.
When this is done, I really do have a place to go where not only, like we stated, not only do they have to let me in, but they really want to let me in. I think that is very important. I know it’s certainly gotten me through really what is a very trying experience.
Kokenge: During the Vietnam War draftees could be as young as 18, fresh out of high school, and still living at home with their families – their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. After serving for a couple of years in the military, and being deployed overseas, some veterans would even return to their old rooms, giving them a greater sense of security. They also knew that once they were done with their conscripted service - they were often done with their wartime experience.
Dougherty: One of the things we’re seeing, especially in this current conflict, is like you say, veterans have repeated deployments. Often for extended periods where they’re away from home, and they’re exposed to a variety of events many of them traumatic. But while they’re there things are progressing at home too.
Kokenge: Today’s veterans are older. They often have families and jobs at home. While they are dealing with death and violence, their children are growing up. While most vets want to return to a static, unchanged home; the home they remember and sometimes idealize, it’s simply impossible.
Dougherty: I knew a veteran who was gone during a period when his son was diagnosed with autism, and he came back to a world that he couldn’t have imagined when he left, and had to adjust to that world, and also to the pressure that his spouse went through in dealing both with the diagnosis and with the treatment. So he came back to a world that was nothing like what the one he left and had to make some very dramatic adjustments; but also if you put down on top of some real combat experiences, how difficult that adjustment can be.
Kokenge: When a soldier’s war is over there needs to be a transition from a war mentality to a peacetime one. That takes a lot of time and a lot of patience on behalf of a soldier and soldier’s friends, family and loved ones.
Dougherty: I think what people need is the sense that home accepts them that it wants them to come back, and that it understands, not in a very concrete way, but in more of an abstract way what the particular veteran has gone through in a combat zone.They want to know that they’re supported and cared for and that people are making an effort to understand and to help them understand the changes that have happened when they’ve been gone.
Kokenge: Bill Dougherty says it’s very therapeutic for vets to tell their stories, but they need to do it on their terms and on their timeline. Dougherty has worked with World War Two veterans who felt the need to talk about their wartime experiences 50 years after the fact.
Waiting five, ten or even fifteen years after a war, means that you can temper the chaos, confusion, and violent memories with the maturity and stability of a long-term home life.
Dougherty: One of the things I tried to do was encourage them to record their experiences, just as they had told me, or to write them down so that they wouldn’t be lost and so that their families would appreciate the things that they did and the sacrifices that they made.
Kokenge: For Our Northwest Home, I’m Thom Kokenge.