Nearly 46 years after being wounded in Vietnam, Peter Halas applied for and received a post-traumatic stress disorder disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The former Akron resident is not alone.
Dr. Edgardo Padin-Rivera, chief of psychology and PTSD expert at the Louis Stokes VA Cleveland Medical Center, said many Vietnam vets are applying for disability as they remember more about their combat experiences.
In Halas’ case, he already had a disability from physical wounds he received in Vietnam. He was injured by a land mine in 1968.
But his PTSD disability was awarded only recently after specific memories came back while talking about the war with VA counselors.
Padin-Rivera said there are 326,530 Vietnam veterans with a PTSD disability — a figure that is climbing every year.
As veterans age, the ways they had to defend against memories of combat begin to fade and they become more troubled by their war experiences, he said.
“It is about emotions of vulnerability and helplessness,” he said. “And this brings up memories of those time periods when they felt vulnerable and helpless and those experiences have to do with war experiences.”
So when veterans go to the VA for medical care, they are asked questions about their mental health, Padin-Rivera said.
“Now that we are asking the question, they begin to talk about it,” the psychologist said. “We try to make it OK for them to talk about this and do away with the stigma of mental health. We saw this with World War II vets and are seeing it with the younger generation of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The memories came back to Halas, 68, as he began talking to VA counselors about his military service.
He wrote about one incident in support of his PTSD diagnosis: “Fire fight for a day and a half, seeing fellow comrades wounded, some mortally by taking a direct hit by mortars ... Then being told to clean up blood, bones, organ splatters from inside of vehicles.”
Halas said he’s had anger issues over the years and now realizes it was part of the PTSD.
“You don’t realize it until you start thinking about it,” he said.
Halas — who retired from Cavanaugh Building Corp. in Akron and moved to Temecula, Calif., in 2011 — said he now receives about $1,400 a month for his PTSD disability, in addition to the $1,600 a month he was receiving for his war injuries.
He’s also trying to straighten out the official record on his service awards.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has changed his DD-214 to reflect one Purple Heart, but Halas says he received three, and a Bronze Star, for his service.
He’s still working on getting the file corrected and said he wants to leave an accurate account of his military experience for his family.
“It wasn’t important before, when I was a young kid,” said Halas, who attended Copley High School. “Now I am an older person and I think about it, those things are important. I damn near gave my life for it.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.