What could be worse? — The Rest of the Story

By Jim Daly

My February article was about a statement in a movie about a Vietnam war hero. The statement was: “There are worse things that can happen to a man than being killed in a war.” I described some veterans who are alive today that suffer much each day in an effort to prove that statement.

They are not useless. They are not helpless. They should not be dead. Even the wounded, disfigured, and disabled are better alive than dead.

Some are worse off than others, and have not yet recovered. Some are the homeless because they cannot deal with their PTSD and the anxiety, anger, and fear that they suffer around people. Some have given up for any of many, many different reasons and self-medicate to the extreme and deal daily with addictions. Some, even take their own lives (22 veterans per day commit suicide).

However, I believe that everyone can be successful and productive at some level. Many, even the severely disabled can learn to adapt to their disabilities, have a family, and have a full and productive career.

In last month’s article I described several specific disabled veterans and myself. Here is the rest of the story.

One was a soldier who had a plate in his skull from a traumatic brain injury, three fingers of one hand missing and a major portion of his forearm muscles missing, and had more than a dozen feet of his intestines removed by shrapnel or during surgery to save his life. He struggles to consume enough of the right foods to sustain his life, not to mention the PTSD and emotional struggles to understand his injuries and what they do to his life. Today, he is a registered nurse working for the Veterans Administration helping veterans like himself, and last I heard was engaged to be married.

Another was a Marine who lost both legs above the knee, one arm at the shoulder, and the other hand in Viet Nam. When I knew him he was an Executive in the Veterans Administration in the Regional Office in San Francisco. He had two teen-aged daughters in high school and college and a son in the Marine Corps.

There was a sailor who has injuries that left him in constant chronic pain at a level of 8 – 10 on a scale of 1 – 10. After trying to self-medicate with alcohol, he sought treatment at the VA, got straight and has retired fully disabled.

I know another sailor who was virtually unable to function as a human being, because of what he had to do in war (PTSD). As a protective measure he retreated into his mind, and his family room with his bed, low lights, and no electronics. His wife slipped in meals twice a day. I recently heard that he is now out, supporting his daughter in college and enjoying life.

Personally, I have PTSD that I am dealing with, through the help of family, friends, faith, and counselling. I have a neck injury that produces chronic pain at about a level of 4 and causes numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness in my hands. I have learned to just subordinate it through shear force of will. And I have had several successful careers, including: college professor, computer systems engineer, network and database administrator, nonprofit executive, and writer.

I wish I knew what it takes to move someone from hopeless, helpless, or suicidal to successful and productive. I don’t. No one does. But the Veterans Administration, many nonprofits, churches, and veteran’s organizations have many different programs that have had great individual successes. And they will never quit trying to help our veterans who have given and suffered so much.

Please Remember: Many of our young men and women have sacrificed greatly around the world, to protect our country, our rights and freedoms, our allies, and the Flag of the United States of America. I am proud to have been one of them, and would gladly defend this great country again today or any day.

Jim Daly, a retired captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a member of the Aberdeen Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 224 and its Veterans Service Officer. He is also a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America.