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Non-Combat PTSD Claim Woes

by B. Onis

I served in the US Army in 1969 and 1970 as a 16B20 Hercules nuclear missile crewman alongside the 24U warhead maintenance crew in a very small Delta team detachment just outside Westkirchen, Westphalia in the 66th Army Artillery Detachment stationed with the 21st FlaRak Battalion.

We were an air defense missile battery under Special Ammunition Support Command (SASCOM) aka Strategic Air Support Command. We were embedded with the German Luftwaffe. These W31 nuclear warheads (30 kilotons each) and High Explosive missiles all having 1100 lbs. of HE with radar guidance systems – quite lethal!

The range of these missiles wouldn’t even reach the East/West border so who were they set to kill outside of knocking out a squad of Russian Tu-95 bombers or incoming enemy missiles? All of Central Europe would have been annihilated – and that’s just for openers! We had hundreds of these nukes while our enemy had thousands. Knowing what might happen upon escalation - everyone dies. Knowing what might happen if a mechanic makes a mistake – everyone dies. Knowing what might happen if a German soldier who often bragged about his Nazi connections decides to take control – everyone dies. Knowing what might happen if my bunkmate tries to interfere with our orders to push the button to protect his family back home from an all-out nuclear war – I have to kill him or everyone dies.

Not only is there fear and anxiety in this type of situation, but there is also terrible shame – for being a part of something so horrendous with worldwide consequences, but also shame for wanting to flee as far away from what I had sworn to my country to protect. I would rather have been in Nam! Originally I had asked in writing to go there. I tried to transfer out of my unit in Germany but I got the run around. I was honorably discharged from that place.

I am in the appeals process for a PTSD claim with the DVA. It took too long for them to acknowledge their responsibility for Agent Orange and it appears they’re doing the same with non-combat related service-connected PTSD. The Army never deprogrammed us upon discharge. They were clueless – or were we? I was able to hide most of my fears and anxieties for almost 40 years from my family, friends and co-workers who thought I was wierdly different. Some manifestations like hypervigilance became a “norm” for me. Then came 9/11 - all the fears, anxieties and shame resurfaced. I won’t go into detail about who I am now in 2010, but if I were an employer, I wouldn’t hire me.

My psych and MD, the therapy group leader (all who have written letters that my PTSD is the result of my military experience) and the appeals team keep having me write down my stressors. The doctors and therapists do it for recovery’s sake, the DVA does it over and over again lest they should grant a rating to an American Vet who covered their backs - it is ALL pure torture.

Writing this blog is a little easier because, first my wife is typing from my notes (lots of venting there) but mostly because I want to encourage other Cold War Vets with VA claims not to give up. My Agent Orange buddy didn’t give up. He got his 100% and he has been encouraging me since I first opened my claim in 2008. The brothers ahead of us with Agent Orange have shown us it’s possible to prevail.

Don’t give up – keep fighting – never consider the “S” word – don’t let the suckers win – see your life out to its good conclusion – you owe it to your fallen comrades who died abruptly and didn’t have a choice – stay in the fight because you are worth it - get in a good support group – be strong - trust God.

Is anyone out there who also worked with nuclear weapons and has a pending claim or has received a rating with a non-combat service connected PTSD? What was your % rating thus far? Is there anyone out there who can help me with my claim – any advise – any referrals – any websites you can recommend?

B. Onis

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Jul 31, 2023
by: Anonymous

Granted there were psychological pitfalls with the gravity of threats of nuclear war and exposure to Dioxins from the weapons we were associated with.

Does anyone remember the warning we were given about drinking the water, showering, water used to clean dishes in the mess hall and other cleanliness uses of the water. Bleach was always added to the dispensers turning it yellow.

If you drank the water you got sick with intestinal issues. What kind of chemicals (dioxins) were used for weed abatement at the sites and perimeter of the camp?

We were told "don't worry." Just don't swallow the shower water or drink the water at the 570th & 583rd.

Think about adding chemical (dioxin) exposure to your VA disability claim especially if you have lesions that won't heal and that spread.

Did you ever seek medical treatment, if so where? It was four hours drive by car to Frankfurt to see an American doctor.

Oct 14, 2015
Non-Combat PTSD Claim Woes
by: Anonymous

Nice post.

Jul 12, 2015
I Can Relate
by: R. Solis

During the years 1977-1981 I worked under the 558th USAAG based out of Elefsis Greece. I was assigned a tour at the 19th USAFAD for one year, and returned to FT. Sill OK., for a year before re-enlisting and returning to Northern Greece, assigned this time to the 18th USAFAD until I ETS'd in 1981.

During this whole time, I was working with W31 Tactical Nuclear Warheads. I believe we had a few MK7 (dial a yield) WH's and quite a few 155mm Nuclear Howitzer shells as well as 8" Howitzer Nukes. We had our orders as to the emergency destruct of these weapons if we were to lose custody and control of them.

I've agonized over what the ramifications would be to the local populace if this ever did take place and 'Emergency Destruct' ever took place. More importantly was what we weren't told as far as the risks we faced everytime we performed "PTR" tests on the WH's. We were never issued dosimeters and our protective clothing consisted of T-shirts, fatigue pants, cap, and our boots.

One time our ordanance company had to come out to work on a serious leaker (as identified by our PTR), and took the WH to our adjoining M&A building. They were equipped with Radiation Protective gear, respirators and new dosimeters!

My non-combat PTSD claim to the DVA is based upon the mission we were there for. To ensure that these special weapons were in a safe and secure environment, and to emergency destruct, or transport the special weapons on a moments notice.
As we were surrounded to the North by Warsaw Pact nations, it was always a threat to us about being overrun and having to kill the community by destroying tons of nuclear, fissionable material.

There are other factors in my non-combat PTSD claim to the DVA, but I'll elect not to bring them forward at this time. I am 35 years removed from this scenario, yet I am paranoid, hypervigilant, and experience night terrors in which I wake up screaming. The irony is that when I did ask questions about the safety of our opening access doors on Warheads and performing our 'leak' tests, I was told not to worry about it and not to ask questions of that nature. Because of the Personnel Liability Program, we were all supposed to be as unassuming and clean as freshly driven snow.

Dec 12, 2011
We Will Win
by: Anonymous

I am in the same boat. I was a 16b Nike hurk crew member. We need to get help. I was in Greece for 18 months and it was hell on that mountain top, always on alert because of terrorists in Athens.

Oct 12, 2010
Nuclear Nightmare
by: Pershing

I just want you to know brother, that there are others who share the exact same feelings that you so ably described. I worked with the Pershing missile in 1974 and my life was hell then and continues to be now. So much anxiety, shame responsibility and guilt about my feelings. I am trying to claim service connection, but so few people fully understand this kind of situation. The Nuclear Personnel Reliability Program may offer insight about your claim . Please post again brother, I would enjoy knowing that you are alright.

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