GARY — Post-traumatic stress disorder “isn’t what’s wrong with you. It’s what happened to you," decorated Vietnam War veteran Jim Chancellor told an assembly Thursday.
"War knows no boundary. We (veterans of all wars) are sewn together with the same fabric, the same thread.”
Chancellor, 66, shared that message Thursday during his presentation “PTSD: Through the Eyes of a Door Gunner” at Indiana University Northwest.
His presentation kicked off the latest exploration of veterans’ issues sponsored by the university as part of yearlong “One Book, One Community” effort. Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, IUN and its surrounding community are exploring the themes of the book Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families.
The book, edited by Andrew Carroll, is a series of stories and lettersthat tell the story of America’s military through their own eyes, said Crystal Shannon, assistant professor in the School of Nursing.
“As a campus, we thought it was important to engage not only our students and faculty but the entire community. Currently we have 185 students this semester who have identified themselves as veterans,” Shannon said.
“My name is Jim Chancellor, and I have experienced war. I want to tell you I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a psychologist. I’m not a mental health expert or even a counselor. I’m not here to try and explain to you why our veterans act the way they do or say the things they say,” he said.
“But what I am is a man that has been married four times. What I am is a man that has been in drug and alcohol treatment programs twice. What I am is a man that has been alone with his thoughts many, many times,” Chancellor said. “This is my story. This is my journey.”
PTSD stems from a number of experiences, Chancellor said. It includes threats to your life, seeing others injured or killed, harmful and fatal crashes, natural disasters, terrorism, domestic violence, rape, war and having to make life and death decisions.
He also explained three types of PTSD onset:
Acute PTSD involves early onset, is very intense, but subsides within six months. Chronic PTSD has early onset, but is prolonged more than six months. Delayed PTSD happens more than six months from the traumatic event, sometimes months, even years after the event.
He described PTSD symptoms as “the demons that drive the car," explaining depression and isolation are the most frequent and dangerous with suicide, addiction, binge drinking and divorce the prime results.
“There are 22 suicides of military veterans per day. That’s one every 65 minutes. Someone who was willing to die for you takes his own life,” Chancellor said.
Divorce occurs for 42 percent of veterans during or after their tours of duty, he said.
“The first 90 days are when most divorces take place for veterans. War isolation extends to the family.”
Homelessness also results, Chancellor said, with 75,000 vets are homeless every night.
“Unacceptable,” Chancellor said.
A range of other PTSD symptoms also include poor memory, avoiding activities, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating and an exaggerated startle response.
“A door gunner’s life expectancy is 19 seconds,” Chancellor said. “As a door gunner, I was in combat 240 days.”
More than 45 years later, Chancellor said he still scans crowded places looking for those with guns.
“When it snows, I go to every window in my house, looking for footprints in the snow,” he said. “I’m on high alert almost 24/7.”