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?