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Old wounds can reopen in wartime

Our soldiers overseas are in jeopardy right now, and so may be many of our veterans at home. If you are a combat veteran, or if you are married to one or know one, you may have seen the stress level jump in recent days and weeks.

Do you find yourself fixated by the television news about the war? Are there more arguments at home, sleeplessness, depression or a little more alcohol than usual? Feeling angry or frustrated, or have normal driving irritations turned into instant road rage? If so, you may be seeing the emerging symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

People with the disorder are a casualty of war, but with a wound that is hidden and difficult to treat Ñ there is no battle dressing for it. Most of us are aware of what the disorder is, but most are not aware that we or our loved ones may suffer from it. The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder are not limited to combat veterans but affect their family, friends and co-workers as well. Veterans Affairs reports that more than 140,000 veterans were receiving VA disability compensation for the disorder.

I should know. I have it, and there is no cure, just symptom management. Sharing my thoughts may help those in a similar situation: I was in the 1st Marine division in Vietnam more than 30 years ago. A lifetime ago yet, seemingly, yesterday. I am a reasonable man, yet I have lost all objectivity and composure during this time of war. Leading up to the war, I felt an undercurrent of unease, lack of focus and an inability to concentrate.

Every time one of these comes along, I get high and I get juiced. We were spoiled by the Gulf War. That was a pretty war Ñ a good air show, tank battles and we were gone.

Now, I watch the war on television Ñ I'm compelled, fixated and must do it. A reasonable person would just turn it off or do something productive. I can't. I've stopped reading the newspaper. I have invitations to go out, but I seem to be busy doing my laundry. I can't even make that 'to do' list that I plan to ignore. I'm immobilized.

I am constantly angry. I rage at the peace protesters and resent the concept that a 20-year-old college kid with a ring through her nose is somehow an expert on national foreign policy. I don't like driving, but now I find myself overcome with instant road rage.

I live alone, so I don't have a dog to kick or, more critically, a family on which to vent. However, some veterans and their families are at risk and should be vigilant to symptoms and triggers. The Portland Vet Center reports a recent increase in Gulf War veterans seeking help, and it expects to see more. It is too easy to categorize a single angry outburst as 'They're just tired and cranky,' when, taken in context, it may just be another slice of the post-traumatic stress disorder pie. We all need to pay attention, because we are all at risk here.

If you see these warning signs, check out the National Center for PTSD's Web site at http://www.ncptsd.org. The VA also operates more than 200 vet centers in cities nationwide, including Portland and Vancouver. Help is available at the Portland Vet Center, at 8383 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-273-5370, and other support is always available at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, domestic violence groups and other support groups.

Steve Berry is a CPA living in Northeast Portland. He served as a Marine in Vietnam in 1969, working as an interpreter and scout in combat situations.