The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2006

PTSD and Families: Nancy's Story


Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and a real friend to his fellow veterans, held a briefing in December on one facet of what has become a political hot potato: How Post-traumatic Stress Disorder affects families. Nancy Switzer, speaking on behalf of herself and the Associates
of Vietnam Veterans of America, gave a wrenching account of her marriages to husbands suffering from PTSD.

“PTSD is an insidious and debilitating condition that has tragic, devastating effects on the family of the veteran or active-duty soldier returned from a combat zone,” she told a rapt audience.

“I have been married to two Vietnam veterans. Both served with the 25th Infantry Division based in Cu Chi. My first marriage lasted five years. We were high school sweethearts. He was drafted into the Army in 1968, my senior year in high school. We got engaged in 1969, right after he found out he was going to Vietnam. I was 19 years old.

“When he came home a year later, he didn’t have a mark on him,” she continued. “I thought he’d been lucky. I was wrong. The first slap made me wonder if this was the same person I’d known the year before.

“But I loved him, and six months after he returned we got married. Our wedded bliss was short-lived, however. He beat me. I’d come home from work, and I’d find strangers in our house doing drugs. There was no talking to my husband about this. And I blamed myself; I thought I had to be doing something wrong for him to be treating me the way he was.”

Nancy Switzer left her husband after five difficult years. She renewed a friendship with the man who would become her second husband. “I fell deeply in love with Rick, and I still love him deeply after almost 30 years of marriage.

“What he experienced in Vietnam is with him every day,” she said. While walking point, Rick stepped on a mine. His left leg had to be amputated below the knee. He suffers with PTSD, for which he receives disability compensation. He just finished radiation treatments for cancer of the prostate, which was radically removed two years ago.

“To say my life with Rick has been difficult hardly conveys the reality. After our son and daughter were born, Rick started having trouble with his stump and had to go into the VA Hospital in Buffalo to have more cut off, his second revision surgery since his injury. When he came home three months later, he started drinking heavily.

“He would break down, crying uncontrollably, hitting things but not me. One moment he would yell at the children, who didn’t understand, for leaving a toy on the floor. Then he would become overly protective of them, wondering where they were every second of the day.

“One night, after drinking, he threw me across the room. My son was on the couch, crying, scared for my safety. I looked into Rick’s eyes and I saw a person I didn’t know. He was having a flashback. Then he left and we didn’t know where he was for two days. This was the first of many similar episodes.”

She finally sought counseling at the Veterans Outreach Center, which had a women’s group. She “couldn’t go to the VA; there was no treatment or help for me there, and we had no Vet Center then in Rochester,” she said.

It was at the Outreach Center that Nancy Switzer first learned about the Vietnam War, about PTSD, and about “the reasons behind the mental anguish, the feelings of helplessness. Not knowing what was happening to the man I was still madly in love with was so emotionally draining.

“Finally, after several more episodes of flashbacks and mental abuse, I felt I had no choice. I told Rick: Either you get counseling or we leave. He sought counseling, thank God. But it did not cure him. He still has flashbacks and outbursts of anger and violence. And he won’t go for counseling.

“Our children are grown now and live on their own. I have learned to walk away in difficult situations. I walk on eggshells, so to speak.

“My husband has become a workaholic, working every minute on anything he can find, except our home. We cope. But our lives have been and continue to be dented by a war that for Rick has never quite ended and, quite frankly, never will.

“What I would hope you can come to understand is this: Today we are faced with a new generation of psychically wounded veterans. I hope that what took us so long to learn will help them, and their families, learn to cope with this wound of war that can be as debilitating as any physical wound. Families have to understand the nature of PTSD. They need to learn coping skills. Perhaps most importantly, they have to learn that the outbursts and the anger are not their fault.

“I understand that the DoD is doing more for families now when the mother or father is deployed,” she said in her concluding remarks. “But I wonder: Are these families being counseled about PTSD and its effects on them as well as on the veteran? Are they learning where they can go for help? And when they think they have nowhere to turn, they have to know: There is help for them. At the Vet Center.”

We respect and congratulate Nancy Switzer for her forthright and deeply felt remarks. And we hope that those in Congress who can provide the funding, and those at the VA who can implement and integrate programs, hear, and abide by, her words.


In an attempt to curb a runaway budget, Congress has targeted discretionary spending items. There is good news for veterans, however: The spending package arrived at by members of the House of Representatives provides a 1 percent across-the-board cut, totaling $8.5 billion to programs funded on a discretionary basis. Veterans programs are exempted from this cut.

Perhaps recognizing that programs aiding the troops, current and former, are good politically, the House legislation also extends a program intended to reimburse troops who paid for vital combat gear in Iraq and Afghanistan. House appropriators reduced defense spending by some $4 billion; the House bill spares veterans’ programs.

Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young (R-Fla.), chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said the cut to discretionary programs would not affect veterans or combat funds being used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but would affect annual programs.

It is appalling that Congress has made a habit of waffling on the budget for veterans’ health care. This hampers the VA’s ability to plan. It exacerbates the backlog in adjudicating claims for compensation for service-connected disabilities. It adds to the time a veteran has to wait before seeing a primary care physician or clinician.

Congress must come to the realization that the current discretionary mechanism that funds the VA’s health care programs no longer works. Reasonable members of Congress from both sides of the aisle need to come together and formulate a new method of funding veterans’ health care. If they do not, the same scenario that marked last summer’s tizzy over a shortfall in funding will, to borrow from Yogi Berra, be déjà vu all over again.

Government Relations Part 2

Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission: Inquiring Minds Want To Know


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