A Sister's Support
November 19, 2019 | 4-minute read
More than 30 years after leaving Vietnam, David went back.
This time, the U.S. Army Veteran was with his family — on bicycles.
It started as a Christmas present. His sister Jenny’s husband offered him a bicycle trip as a gift. And when David asked his brother-in-law to join him, it was eventually decided that Jenny and their son would come along too.
“So the youngest tour member was 8 years old, and the oldest was 80,” David remembers. “It was an amazing trip. And very healing.”
The trip is just one example of the many ways Jenny and other family members have been there for David, a Special Forces Veteran who faced posttraumatic stress disorder and moral injury after serving from 1967 to 1969.
“It was fun, and it was — you know — gut-wrenching at times,” Jenny says of the trip. “And it was physical exercise. Doing something, rather than just walking around staring, I think helps process things more. … In my life, I’ve found that to be true.”
This November marks National Veterans and Military Families Month, a time to honor military families and their enormous sacrifices for their fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters in the service. But families can also play a critical role when Veterans return home — whether it’s listening, or offering a shoulder to lean on, or just being there.
For Jenny, it was about taking notice. “I remember at one point, by the time I was about in college, thinking, ‘He never really talks about his experience there.’ That was sort of a red flag.”
It was also about starting a conversation. “I remember we took a small airplane ride,” Jenny says. “I don’t remember what the circumstances were, but it was the two of us, and I said something to [David] about that. And [he] did open up about some things at that time.”
It was about speaking up about what she was seeing — about David’s difficulty holding down a job for a length of time, or concerns about some of the relationships he was in.
And it was about showing a sister’s love. In talking with David about her memories, Jenny says: “I think that there was, like, a disconnect between who you really wanted to be and who I knew you could be, and who you really were at the time. And there was a fair amount of kind of a shroud — you know, like a facade or a shroud.”
It all made an impact.
“What motivated me mostly was … Jenny and our conversations,” David says. “Those conversations were shared with some other siblings. You know, I guess all of a sudden it just dawned on me that I felt like I was kind of a functional alcoholic.”
David eventually sought out counseling. He also threw himself into the Veteran community. He now advocates on behalf of Veterans, helping to connect them to resources.
“I kind of incorporated my efforts to seek counseling, and also [to] get involved in the Veteran community as an advocate,” he says. “I tried to combine those two, and understood better where I was coming from, and how I had been affected, through others.”
David’s advice now? Well, he has several pieces to share.
On finding the right counselor, the right psychiatrist: “It’s like buying a house or a suit of clothes. You’ve got to try on a lot of suits. You’ve got to look at a lot of houses. … This should be no different,” he says. “And you’re not going to bat a thousand every [time]. You have to be persistent. You have to continue the process and keep looking until you find the right match.”
And for other families, struggling to understand what the Veteran they love is going through or to start a conversation: “If you’re a family member, I’d say be persistent, be gentle, and just let that Veteran — that service member — know that you’re loved, and that things will get better,” David says. “They do.”