MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Many members of a group in Myrtle Beach have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, accident, terrorism, war, or rape.
Most members of the Myrtle Beach PTSD Group served in Vietnam and have experienced some type of trauma while serving.
“I’ve got a lot of physical problems because of the issues. I got shot in the head. I spent a year in the hospital, and I have a lot of things screwed up in me, besides that and some from agent orange,” said William Huffaker, a Vietnam veteran and a Purple Heart recipient.
“My trauma…which I’m 100 percent PTSD disabled,” said Bob “Bubba” Tomassetti, a Vietnam Veteran. “I was sexually molested by the priest that I was assigned to. God took care of me.”
“I’ve got real bad COPD from Agent Orange and they classify it as stage four and I told my wife before I go pulling that air tank around, I’m gone and I mean it., I’ll do it,” said Lou Krieger, a Vietnam Veteran from 1968 to 1969.
Every week the group of more than two dozen veterans meet to talk about whatever it is they want, sometimes they talk about what they experienced while serving. Other times it’s about resources from the VA. More than 75% of the group has PTSD.
“We do a lot of things together; we do our lunches together. We have 50/50 raffles here every week,” Krieger said.
Veterans have likely experienced life-changing events while serving. Officials say 20,000 service members experience sexual assault every year.
“The male veterans tend to not report it as often,” said Dr. Randy Warren, Chief of Community Based Clinics and Operations at the Myrtle Beach VA Outpatient Clinic.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated about 30 out of every 100 Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. At the Myrtle Beach VA Outpatient Clinic, 3,126 have a PTSD diagnosis. The clinic serves roughly 15,000 veterans.
Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event but sometimes may not appear until years after the event.
“Everybody’s brain has a certain amount of elasticity, the ability to handle trauma and stresses,” Warren said. “Some people can do it and come out of war and do fine and have no symptoms of PTSD. Others may have full-blown PTSD.”
There are treatment options ranging from therapy to prescription medication.
“It can be anything from individual therapy, talking with a trauma therapist, we have specialized therapists who are trained in trauma treatment both PTSD and MST,” Warren said.
However, some veterans in this group believe prescription pills are not going to fully heal them and others News13 spoke with would like to have better resources from Veterans Affairs.
“Drugs aren’t the answer, they’re not going to help me,” Huffaker said. “I’ll never forget what I saw and where I’ve been, I’ll never forget that.”
Karl White served with Military Police 101st Airborne more than 50 years ago and he outlined concerns with News13 about the care he received with the VA.
“Your primary care doctor disappears, your psychiatrist disappears and then you get another one and have to start all over the process again, you’re talking 52 years ago when I was over there,” White said.
The VA stressed the veteran is their priority.
“We’re human, obviously sometimes things are missed and obviously we don’t always do 100%, but we are here for the veterans,” Warren said. “We are what we call veteran centric, the veteran is engaged in their treatment from the time they enter.”
Nonetheless, this group is thankful to have one another, as they navigate life after serving.
“I can count on everybody here,” said Frank Emerson, Vietnam veteran who received two Purple Hearts. “That’s a wonderful thing. And there’s a lot of people, civilians out there that don’t have that comradery that we do.”
Veterans interested in joining this group can contact Lou Krieger via email. The group meets every Tuesday at 10 a.m.