One fact about war is that many survivors are forever wounded. Evidence is all around us. Wounds are visible on the ribbons veterans wear on their uniforms. Missing limbs and scars are proof of the horrors of war. But some of the most grievous wounds are not visible to the eye, and many who do not bear physical scars are still terribly wounded.
Earlier wars gave rise to the terms shell shock, battle fatigue and soldier’s heart. It wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychological Association officially adopted the term post-traumatic stress disorder–a mental health condition triggered by going through or witnessing terrifying events. In PTSD and Me (Schuler Books, 209 pp., $16.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) Dr. Richard Czop relates events that highlight his personal journey with PTSD. The book is also an indictment of the inadequate psychological treatment and understanding that was available to Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.
As a young, patriotic American, the author was a college student with many high school buddies serving in the military. After learning of his friend’s second wounding in Vietnam Czop decided to join up. He quit school and volunteered for the draft.
After Basic Training at Fort Knox, Czop was assigned to the Army Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston. While there he received word that his friend had been wounded a third time, leaving him paralyzed. In the ensuing months Richard Czop was able to spend a fair amount of time with his friend. While on the surface this contact may have seemed like a good thing, in truth it dragged Czop deeper and deeper into the abyss of guilt.
In his angst, and perhaps feelings of guilt, Czop took steps that eventually led to his assignment as a medic in Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division. Life in combat further exposed him to the fertile ground from which the seeds of PTSD grow. The book in vivid detail identifies the events—including the author’s own wounding—that led to his decades-long battle with PTSD.
Upon his return to the United States Richard Czop graduated from college and medical school. He was divorced twice and married three times, further evidence of the personal difficulty that exists when dealing with untreated PTSD. He also raised a family and had some problems raising his children.
Dr. Czop set up his own family medical practice and appeared to have a semblance of normalcy. But the normalcy was shallow and short lived. After hearing a speech by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Czop had what could only be called a PTSD attack. This event might not be medically described as such, but to this reviewer it influenced the progress of Czop’s PTSD.
A series of political events surfaced Czop’s long-buried hostility toward the U. S. government. That culminated with a questionable government lawsuit, and made Czop realize that he had PTSD. The lawsuit bought Czop into contact with a lawyer who became a stabilizing voice in his life and greatly helped him come out of the darkness of PTSD.
Others helped, too, each one contributing something different. This validates the idea that there is no single pattern for PTSD. Individuals manifest unique reactions to those around them. Triggering mechanisms include flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.
Czop’s book, I believe, would be valuable for those who have PTSD, for the PTSD sufferer’s friends and loved ones, and—perhaps most importantly—for those who help treat those who have PTSD because of their service to their country.