Hidden wounds of war: Part 1

By KBJR News 1

November 4, 2013 Updated Nov 4, 2013 at 11:53 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The day a loved one returns from war can be the happiest day in a family's life. They're home safe and sound, but in some cases the wounds they carry can't be seen at first glance.

"We can say that we have seen a pretty significant increase with the veterans coming in, seeking treatment for PTSD," said Reggie Worlds, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

The U-S Department of Defense estimates that up to 20 percent of returning veterans will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

The symptoms can be severe including nightmares and flashbacks and it can take a devastating toll on a soldier's personal life.

"I had nightmares. My first wife was scared to death of me because of some of the stuff I did in the middle of the night. My kids were scared of me because they didn't know when I was going to go off," said Robert Lanthier, a Vietnam Veteran.

RJ Lanthier spent what he calls 13 months in hell in Vietnam.

"I was there for one of the deadliest fire fights. We lost 7,000 guys that week. They lost 45,000 and I saw piles of bodies; 800 piled up," he said.

His post traumatic stress led to drugs and alcoholism as he tried to drown his nightmares.

If you drink enough you pass out, or you don't sleep. I used to go days without sleep," he said.

Many experts say PTSD hasn't always been taken as seriously as it should have been and many Vietnam veterans didn't get the help they needed on return from combat.

"We are also trying to recover from our Vietnam era veterans that are still for the first time coming to the surface to address their concerns," said John Retzer, with the Minnesota Veterans Affairs Office in Minneapolis.

Those concerns often include an inability to work. Through the years since returning as a wounded veteran Lanthier has tried to keep a job and support a family.

"I think the longest I've ever held a job is five years. I'd get fired, or I'd punch someone in the mouth and get fired or walk off," said Lanthier.

The Veterans' Administration works to modify that type of violent behavior with varying degrees of success.

"It is something that doesn't go away," Retzer said.

RJ says thanks to counseling he's got his stress under much better control these days but these wounds generally don't heal completely.

"You learn to manage it. You're not going to get over it. I mean it's been 40 years for me," Lanthier said.

Those 40 years have been tough financially as well and RJ's not alone.

A recent study funded by the U-S Department of Defense shows 30 percent of Vietnam Vets have seen their income dramatically impacted by PTSD.

Up to 20 percent of Gulf War veterans have also seen their earnings dramatically impacted by PTSD.

And the experts say it's only going to get worse.

Tuesday night on the KBJR 6 & Range 11 News at Ten, we'll take a closer look at that study as she talks with Gulf War vets on how the hidden wounds continue to fester taking a toll on the psyche and the pocket book.

Barbara Reyelts