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Vietnam War combat veteran shares healing advice at GVSU's Hauenstein Center PTSD conference


The United States’ service men and women secure our freedom. How can we support them when they return home? Grand Valley State University’ Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies hosted its annual PTSD conference.

WGVU spoke with the keynote speaker, a Vietnam War combat veteran who understands treating the hidden wounds of war.

Jim Hodges joined the Civil Air Patrol when he was 16-years old. The young Texan began working with intelligence officers and joined the Army. “I was born with that soldier mentality in me.”

Jim was joining the long line of male Hodges serving their country and he was heading off to Vietnam where he experienced indirect warfare.

“Where somebody gets blown up or wasted and you’ve got nobody to hit.”

And civilian suffering.

“It’s about human atrocities that are out of your control.”

He returned home with combat stress, today diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There’s a clinical definition and then there’s Jim’s. “People see something that they can’t process or handle and it causes them to change and become a different person.”

Home was no longer that Norman Rockwell painting he had in his mind when he left for war. Life in the jungle witnessing starving Vietnamese living in huts had shattered the childhood belief system he relied on. Stateside his survival kit was booze, smokes and his sidearm. He ran away from his wife and children…he was homeless.

So you ask, how did Jim Hodges begin his recovery from PTSD? Introspection and a history lesson beginning with the Father of Modern Medicine. “I always use Hypocrites, he made the statement that ‘Healing is a matter of time but it’s also a matter of opportunity.’ There’s a lot of sense in philosophy sometimes. If you look back through history and I started studying the history of war, combat, soldiers and looking at the comparison of them and it kicked it off with George Patton when he made the comment about in the old days warriors returned to their triumphal parade, but a slave stood in the chariot behind the conqueror holding a golden crown just above his head and whispering in his ear a warning that ‘all glory is fleeting.’ So, I took all those things, I self-educated myself because in my day, my generation, if you mentioned that you had combat stress that was a kiss of death. You’d never get hired anywhere and you never even put on your application that you served in the military or Vietnam at all. That was just completely left out because if an employer found that out you had no chance whatsoever of being hired. So, things have changed now. The door’s open. People talk about it openly. I think the veterans coming back today they have every opportunity. They need to get help. They need to go get support. Go to a lot of these focus groups where they understand that they’re not alone, that there is help out there that’s credible and then it’s a matter of their own mind. They got to pick that course just like they did in battle, just like they did in combat. If you’ve got a leader up in front of you and he gets whipped out, well you don’t just go to pieces and go wandering all over the battle field, you take over, you make the plan, you call the shots, you direct the troops. And so, if they think about that in that mindset, get back to the training, get back to the mission, I think that would help a lot of them pretty easily they might find a path for themselves in there.”

For more information log on at Cowboyspeaks.com

Patrick Center, WGVU News.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.