tv Vietnam Post- War Trauma CSPAN May 30, 2016 8:56am-9:48am EDT
"time" magazine's political columnist, award-winning journalist and the author of seven books including "payback, five marines after vietnam". his weekly time column "in the arena" covers national and international affairs and he has won two national headliner awards for best magazine column. he is also a member on the council of foreign relations. please help me welcome your
panel and your moderator joe kleine. welcome. [ applause ] good afternoon, everybody. this is the second time that i have been privileged and honored to sit on this stage. both times the topic was veterans. the last time i was accompanied by three spectacular young veterans of the iraq and afghanistan wars. and my most recent book is charlie mike which means continue the mission, was about the veterans of those wars.
to me it is very interesting to spend time with them as i have. i embedded in iraq and afghanistan with them. and to spend time with veterans of my era of the vietnam war. they have had, hard to say this since the wars were equally silly, they have had an easier time than you guys had. they were all volunteers. many of them volunteered on september 12, 2001. they went over as units and came back as units. vietnam veterans went over alone and came back alone. because of the experience of vietnam veterans the doctors and many clinicians at the v.a. and
elsewhere knew what post traumatic stress disorder -- i have dropped the disorder part of it because it is not disorderly to respond to the experience of combat by having some troubles reintegrating into a society that knows nothing of combat. and they have treated each other differently from the vietnam generation. they formed their own organizations to help each other and help us. 90% of them according to polls want to continue service in their communities because they are a generation of volunteers. and they have looked now more recently to their brothers and sisters who served in vietnam or including them in public service organizations like disaster
relief internationally and nationally and it's important to know that when you see this horrifying statistic, that 22 veterans a day commit suicide we are talking about veterans of all wars and the majority of those veterans are vietnam veterans. it has been a long, lonely, horrendous road back for our vietnam veterans and i am honored to share the stage with these people y. would like to start with jan skrugs because if anybody walked point in redeeming this generation of veterans in making the public aware of them after so many people have forgotten the way they were treated when they came home it's jan. so why don't you tell us how and
why you did what you did? >> well, after i returned from vietnam i spent a couple of years hopelessly lost running around with motorcycles and getting in trouble. then i decided to get an education and got a master's degree from american university. while there i did a research project on ptsd. it was not called ptsd then. i testified in front of congress, wrote an article in the washington post and that automatically makes you an expert on anything. so i had some academic -- >> i'm aware of the phenomenon. >> it's often short-lived. two years later i decided there should be a national vietnam veterans memorial after seeing "the deer hunter" i said i am going to build national memorial in washington, d.c. she kind of laughed.
i went and told my boss, gs 7 at the department of labor. he said we all need a mental health day and i think you need a couple of weeks. i went and looked at writings of carl young. he was a student of freud. he believed there was a spiritual element to life and that there are things that we shared. for example, when this great team wins the championship the entire campus goes wild. they share this memory and belief in their college and their school. i believe that people would have a belief that people who give their lives for america should be remembered by having their name engraved. there was a theoretical basis
for this entire thing. i kind of started it, did not know what i was doing. they finally did an article about my effort and it said that $188 had been raised in two months. as a result of that we needed a team so i was contacted by some guys who were graduates of the harvard business school who all served in vietnam and had also actually been to west point. so these were real band of brothers. they kind of made harvard business school problem out of this. when you land we need a design and we need the money. so we put it all together, introduced a bill in 1979 in november and in november 1982 the dedication took place. i think it is all footage from that. [ applause ]
>> were you surprised by the emotional outpouring? >> no. because the whole idea of seeing a name on a monument with all of these emotions that had been freeze dried for years, it was going to have a big psychological impact. there were going to be tears shed but shed in a good way. the designer of this memorial we had the largest architectural design competition held in the history of western civilization to get this. the person who directed that is in our audience today. so she said let's put the names not in alphabetical order but chronological order. if you are in a battle you see the names of people who died together. that takes the veteran back into
the past, helps them confront the drama and sometimes helps them recover from the vietnam war. >> i know that when i wrote my book "payback" about vietnam veterans in the early 1980s i had to find them through the army because they didn't -- through the marines, excuse me. that is a big mistake. these were veterans of a single battle, of a single unit and they had completely lost touch with each other. grace, you have been dealing with these people for the last 40 years. i imagine you bumped into more than a few iraq and afghanistan veterans. could you talk about the difference and the feelings of isolation that veterans feel when they come home. >> sure. before i do that i would like to
correct something. i did not serve as a medic. i was a volunteer for 3 1/2 years with catholic relief. what happened is that when they went to research me on the website, my community free clinic made a mistake and took linda swallow who was an army nurse and a medic in vietnam. i'm her and she is me. i think it got messed up a little bit. that was our fault as a community free clinic, not lbj library. you guys are good. so coming back -- coming out of vietnam after 3 1/2 years and people say why did you go, when you are young and 17 years old and you think you know everything and you are bullet proof you are going to do things that maybe later on in life you will regret though i don't
regret this at all. because i grew up very fast. i learned to care and i learned that it was okay to say to somebody i have post traumatic stress or anxiety or yes i have a problem that i can't describe. it's not medical. aspirin won't take care of it. there is something wrong. and i don't know what it is, but there's something wrong. so when i was meeting up with my friends from vietnam i was there and my brothers when i came back to the united states, we all connected and looked each other up. it was okay for me to say to my brothers because they weren't going to say it to me first. they were these big macho men. many of them west point
graduates. they weren't about to admit that there was anything wrong. i remember and i said to them i can't sleep anymore. i can't sleep but maybe two hours or three hours and i keep waking up. it's not like i have bad dreams but i just can't sleep. and amazingly skeeter told me the same thing and john lang told me the same thing. they both passed from agent orange. john passed this year, the last of my brothers. i am living person left of my group. but it took that. it took somebody else to say i can't sleep, what's going on? for years we would not -- we
would stay in touch but we wouldn't be talking. if i picked up the phone and called them it was like it was just yesterday that we finished a conversation. it's like we had never been apart for that many years. this is the way it was with us. their homecoming was horrendous because especially for john and for phil sleet. these west point graduates who had been generations of west point graduates. john's family, his great great grand father was a west point graduate. long line of military families. all of these guys expected something more than what they got when they came home. so it was really tough for them, but then my other friends who came out of the corn fields of iowa, they expected maybe not a
parade, but maybe they expected their family or their community to understand. by the time they came home, the sentiments had turned against the vietnam war. and you had people who were protesting the war which, look, i agree because i did, too, but you hate war. you love the warrior. they didn't start this damn war, i kept saying to myself. i don't get it. it's true. even today. you hate the war but you love the warrior. well, the differences between the way the vietnam veteran was treated and now the iraq afghanistan veterans are treated is like night and day. i tell you what, all you vietnam veterans in this room, you deserve to stand up and take a big bow because it was because of you --
>> why don't you do that? [ applause ] can we have all vietnam veterans? [ applause ] if there are any iraq and afghanistan veterans you join them. [ applause ] one of the reasons why i decided to write another book about veterans was because the experience was so different. but it was one of the great insights i had as i spent the last four years interviewing more recent veterans was that something that applied to vietnam veterans, as well. that is that post traumatic stress isn't only about the things that you saw and did over
there. a good part of it is about being part of a family, being part of a community, having brothers and now brothers and sisters. and then when you come home you come home all alone. one of the people i wrote about was a woman, a gun sergeant. and she came home with a raging case of post traumatic stress and said i deployed myself to camp couch and commanding officer of camp couch was me. and my military order specialty on camp couch was to stay on camp couch. and it seems to me that especially in this new generation one thing that the rest of us can learn from them
is the importance of community. but you were telling me a story before about how vietnam veterans have re-established communities for themselves. first of all, do you agree that part of post traumatic stress is the loss of sense of community? >> absolutely, loss of sense of community whether it's your family or the small town that you live, absolutely. but i was telling him this story. i work in a small town called concord, north carolina, a little north of charlotte. very small town. i work at a place called community free clinic which provides free health care for all uninsured and anyone who is poor and you can't afford it you come to us and we will take care of you. and we do take care -- [ applause ] and it is free.
we take no federal money. we take no state money. we do donations and volunteers. that is how we do it. we see in the last ten years or so, 12 years, we have been taking care of more and more veterans. and the main reason is two fold. one, they have benefits but the closest v.a. is too far away and they have no transportation. so they say come to me and i will take care of you. the other one is that they don't know that they have the benefits. some really don't know they have the benefits. we try to help them through the process. the most interesting group of veterans that i know and who are my patients is a group of about 12 people, sometimes 11, 12, 13. no more than that. and they literally live out in the woods. yes, the woods. they have tents. they set the perimeter. they live in the woods. they are vietnam veterans.
they have been out there for 40 years. they won't come in. i keep asking and they say we are fine. but the thing of it is is that these guys know they are coo coo for cocoa puffs. they will tell me that. but when they went to the v.a. when you have a mental illness or mental problem you are in pain. it is a physical pain that you feel. it's visceral. when they would go to the v.a. and say i'm in pain they would get pain medications which is not what they needed. that is what they would get is pain medications. what they needed was maybe mood stabilizer but most importantly they needed someone to listen and someone to talk to.
so you know these guys years ago threw away their meds. they don't use them anymore. they don't. they just treat -- this is their community. this is their family. and they help each other out. i go out to the woods in the winter time to see them and make sure they get what they need especially medications. i have to tell you a funny story if i may. my husband, joe galloway, comes home and sees strange people in the house. he says who are these people? i said they are my homeless. they needed a place to stay the night. another time he comes home and a strange man is raking our yard. he says who is that? and it was one of my vietnam veterans who decided to pay me
back by raking my yard. this is the community that we live in that i think regardless of the fact that these guys lived out in the woods and we go isn't that a terrible thing. to them that was their home. that is their home. that is their community. that is where they belong. that is where if you are invite today come to their house, this is where you would come to their tent. and they are proud of it. they keep it very neat. this is my home. >> jan, what was coming home like for you? what to you remember of it? >> i remember i came home just a few days before the kent state event. it was not good. but i remember i wanted to meet somebody to go out with and
date. so this friend took me to lunch with this attractive girl and she said one thing i would never do is go out with these vietnam veterans guys because i watched this massacre, the pictures, if this is what these people do i would be afraid to go out with one of them. i kind of said maybe telling people you are a vietnam veteran is not a very good idea. that is where it started. i think the larger issue for these men and women increasingly now coming back from iraq and afghanistan and who knows where this will end, this war which will never end, what we did with vietnam veterans memorial is we can separate the war from the warrior. and we got people like william westmoreland, very hawkish guy,
with george mcgovern. i got to know them both very well. that made sort of a message. and so we separated the war from the warrior and when these guys and gals coming back from vietnam the veterans said this is not going to happen to these people. the public by and large did not support particularly the war in iraq as it went on. nobody took it out on the veterans. that is what the vietnam veterans did. by the way, a lot of them were our kids. they would follow their fathers -- >> absolutely. absolutely true. >> and in terms of your generation of veterans, there were some who became activists because of it. and the vast majority just went on to live their lives.
but a stereotype began to develop of vietnam veterans as half crazy when they came home. and it's a stereotype that has continued on to this generation of veterans. i would like to -- both of you to talk about that stereotype and how real is it. >> you have to remember that vietnam veterans invented the internet, al gore. we can't all be crazy. craziness is difficult to go back to normal. if you look at great entrepreneurs of this country, fred smith federal express, marine combat officer, saw a lot of combat. james kinsey, original founder of america online. there are really successful people including people who have themselves struggled with post traumatic stress. but pts does not have to destroy you. you can deal with it and it can
get better over time. one of the great experts is sitting next to me. >> well, post traumatic stress is why i have this lovely dog here. his name is jacques. the best way that i can tell any of you guys out there who have pts and i know you do, is to give back. give back to your community. because i think a lot of what we have is survivor's guilt. how come i lived and my orphans died? how come i lived and the nuns died? how come -- it's survivors guilt. so giving back is sort of in my mind a way of saying to all my
friends who died and who i held in my arms when they died, it is my way of saying to them i pay you this honor, this respect, this love and thank you. >> actually, there are statistics that now are beginning to show that that's an actual fact. one of the people i wrote about in charlie mike his name is eric. he was a navy s.e.a.l. he was blown up in iraq, came back and he started walking the wards. and asking the wounded veterans there far more wounded than he was, what do you want to do now? and the unanimous answer, i have had the same experience at
walter reed and i am sure you have, as well. the inevitable answer is i want to go back and join my unit. and eric would say, well, after you leave the service what do you want to do? they would say i want to coach back home or become a teacher or firefighter, whatever. and in the course of talking to these kids eric came up with a killer sentence. he said thank you for your service. we still need you. i live my life in regret that i didn't come up with that sentence and wasn't able to say it to the generation of vietnam veterans who were never told it. eric went on to start an organization called the mission continues which gave six month
public service fellowships to wounded veterans. and there have been academic studies that have been done now that show that helping others is a really wonderful way to treat post traumatic stress, that it actually works. and the other thing i would say is this, that the act of service is a very important, crucial part of democracy. it's something that we have kind of lost track of in this country. and were you drafted or did you volunteer? >> i volunteered for the draft at age 18 and they were looking for people like me.
president obama gave me a 20-year appointment. i am the chairman of selective service. it's a national appeals board if they have the draft again we will hear cases. it's very important what you are talking about. everyone here has some degree of mental health and wants to preserve it and make it better. one of the worst things you can do and veterans can do is to withdraw and start living alone and sit on the couch by yourself and look at tv. you have to be engaged with people. people will give you a reality check. people are always doing that with me. people give me a reality check. when you give back to people it will -- the universe will kbet it back to you. karma, whatever you want to call it. it is very important. i'm very glad you point it out. >> one thing i point out to veterans in the audience, a lot
of organizations that the new generation has formed which is a major difference between them and vietnam veterans, groups like team rubicon which do international disaster relief, mission continues which has service platoons all over the country are reaching out to vietnam veterans and asking them to be part of this effort, to join up and serve and it's a really wonderful -- i have gone out on deployments and when you see veterans getting together and organizing themselves the way military folks do and organizing themselves to help other people, the joy that they get out of it and the amazement that civilians who don't know
anything of the military life, the appreciation that they get out of it is a remarkable thing. i think that for me, you know, the first thing that i knew of vietnam veterans acting as a group was vietnam veterans against the war. john kerry will be here later in the week. but it seems to me that there is an awful lot that the rest of us civilians can learn from veterans, can learn about being a citizen, can learn about service, can learn about community. and as the head of the service commissioning, i might recommend to you that you start -- that we start thinking more as a society about all kinds of service and making it part of the coming of age cycle for young men and
women. >> in countries and societies that are smaller than ours everyone has to go into the military or -- i met an israeli employee who was fantastic. she spent 18 months working in a mental hospital. so everyone has to give back. there is a social cohesion which is now missing with the disparities in income, racial divide that continues, this awful presidential contest which i just can't stand. all of these things -- >> you had to remind me. these people are trying to pull us apart but there is so much about us that it is so fantastic. it's a fantastic country we live
in. >> you brought up an excellent point. i agree. i believe that every single person when they turn 18 owes their country two years of service. i don't care what it is but two years of service whether if you want to go to the military that is fine. whether it is public health, whether it is mental health, serving the community as a teacher in an under privileged area you owe your country two years and that way i think we may be able to get back into our community and into our country that sense of altruism and we are family of men and we will make a better country and make a better world. you know, people say america is the best country in the world.
and i say not yet. not yet. as long as there is one homeless veteran and one child that goes to bed hungry we are not there yet, but we can get there. so how about it? come on. >> you know -- i forgot what i was going to say. but there are those who are still suffering. >> yes. >> and how do you deal with them? you deal with them still on a daily basis? >> i do. >> for the people out here, people come to me as having written these books and say how can we deal with these folks? i spoke recently at an
organization, terrific organization called give an hour which is an association of 6,000 therapists that volunteer an hour of therapy each week, psychological therapy for veterans coming back from iraq and afghanistan. and they don't know how to deal with them. and the thing that civilians never ask and your generation was never asked because people thought that the answer would be -- tell me what you did over there. what was it like? go. >> vietnam veterans really deserve a lot of respect. it was a very difficult war to fight in. the combat was always hot over there. the regiments which were skilled
fighters knew they had to go belt buckle to belt buckle. there were high casualties. a lot of people went over there and the draft supplied a lot of people. 17,000 people over 17,000 people on the vietnam veterans memorial were drafted to fight in vietnam. >> out of over 50,000? >> out of 58,000, you are correct. and during sort of the height of the war for four years an average of 20 americans killed per day. that's a lot of people. i'm not sure we can really put up with that right now as a country. i think these wars going on in iraq and afghanistan we have a volunteer army so people can say my kids aren't going to get drafted and they are volunteers so there is not this uproar about these wars which maybe there should be or shouldn't be.
it is very important to remember how difficult it was and how they lowered the standards as the war went on because they had the college deferments back home to get people who have not been in the u.s. military, a tragedy that so many of them would get killed in combat because they were not -- didn't know what to do. >> harder to get in the army now than to get into community college. >> it's true. what we are talking about here is something that is primal and essential. i always feel that having done my job sitting and standing or sitting in front of a group like this, i don't recommend someone else's book. there is a book by william mcneil, military historian that has a lovely title. it's called "keeping together in time" a history of close order drill.
his theory is that at the dawn of civilization on the african savannah if you wanted to go out and get meat for dinner and went out with your little spear the chances were you would be the lion's dinner and that over time the habit grew of young men doing the kill the lion dance together and that gave them a much better chance of coming home with some protein. and he believes that that instinct was hard wired, is hard wired into young men. and we're trying to get by these days without having any coming of age ritual at all for young men. so too many of them join gangs
and fraternities. that is what you got. and i do believe that an essential part of the honor that is owed to the veterans of vietnam and to the more recent veterans but especially to the veterans of vietnam because they weren't given the honor at the time is the honor of recognizing that they as terrible as it was and as unfair as it was, they fulfilled their humanity and their citizenship in a way that the people who is scoring them never did. >> allow me to have -- i know that governor rob is in the audience, decorated marine. i will tell you what, if you
were wounded on a battlefield in vietnam, which i was -- >> i love the way you say that for the last five minutes dprmpt swh -- >> if you are wounded in iraq, if you are an american soldier somebody is going to come and get you. people will give their lives for you. that is what i saw enough of in vietnam. i'm really proud of those guys. [ applause ] >> well, following -- tough to follow up with that, but i think that what we owe our veterans, vietnam veterans, iraq afghanistan veterans, what we owe all our veterans is you hear
about respect and honor, yes. but how do we do it? we in our clinic and the way i found the best way to honor them is to listen. listen to them. because a lot of times they maybe don't want to talk to you but they want you to sit there. so just be with them or let them talk to you because you talking to them means absolutely nothing, really. they have got to get to a point or we, i should say, have to get to a point where we can listen to you. a lot of times we will go in and out of that. i am ready to listen to you today but yesterday i wasn't. maybe tomorrow i won't be but for all you families who are dealing with people with pts, listen, be there. hold their hand. if they don't want to be touched
don't touch them. respect that. and you will be doing so much more that any psychiatrist could do. >> you know, i want to close this with a story about a veteran who shared the stage with me last time i was here. and i think the thing that infuriates me most as a journalist and as a citizen and as someone who has, you know, covered wars, seen what soldiers and marines and sailors and air men do, is the public sense that veterans are victims. and veterans, many veterans have internalized this. many veterans and i'm sure some of you vietnam veterans out there, many of this generation
of veterans won't put their service on their resumes because they think it is harder for them to get hired. but there was a fellow who shared the stage with me named seth malten. and he graduated from harvard in june of 2001 before 9/11. a dual degree in physics and philosophy. and he used the occasion to announce that he was joining the marines. he came from good old new england liberal stock and his mother told "boston globe" i would have been more disappointed if seth announced he was pursuing a life of crime. there was a woman sitting out over there who said he got up and said seth i'm your mom.
do you still believe that what you did was right? and seth said absolutely. seth served four tours in iraq. and he came home and he decided to run for congress up in boston. and i don't know how many of you have seen the movie "spotlight" but the guy who is the hero of spot light made a practice of going through the records of war veterans who ran for office because usually they in many cases they exaggerated their records. so about a month before the election found out that walter robinson was investigating seth malten and there was going to be a story coming out in the "boston globe" and the story came out two weeks before the
election. and walter robinson discovered this unbelievable thing about seth malten, that he had received two bronze stars and a navy action medal. i forget what exact medal it was and he had never told anybody including his parents. and walter robinson asked seth why he never told anybody. and seth said, i joined the military because i felt it was my duty as a citizen especially someone who had the privileges that i have had at harvard. i was against the war in iraq, but i figured my job there was to get my guys through. and i didn't succeed in that, so what is there to brag about?
in my experience that's what a veteran is. you know, i won't use the word hero because they hate it when you do. but these are people who we need to learn from and the struggles of the vietnam generation in particular are a terrible american tragedy that i hope as we move along we can rectify in a way that jan started and the way that you do every day. thank you very much. [ applause ] former secretary of state henry kissinger defended his
role in vietnam war to gathering. some 40 years after the fall of saigon and america's withdrawal from vietnam he called the 1975 saigon evacuation one of the saddest moments of his life but insisted he had no regrets. kissinger sat down with lbj library director as comments that organizers call the vietnam war summit then took questions from the audience. this program is about 90 minutes. please welcome mrs. linda johnson rob, the honorable hubert voe, ms. lucy johnson, daughter of linden and lady