My current status with the Veterans Administration of 80% service connected disability, stems from significant, traumatic, combat-related events, two back-to-back Gulf War tours that caused my diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD), Bipolar 1 Disorder, Degenerative Disc Disorder, and Tinnitus, all service-connected injuries.
On December 22, 1990, off the coast of Haifa, Israel, I survived the sinking of a ferry boat. In a frantic effort to save surviving sailors and recover the dead, a massive volunteer search and rescue operation was employed, in which I was involved. Over eighty men were rescued, while twenty-one were found dead. At one point, this was the single greatest loss of American lives during the Gulf War, thus, being the single most traumatic event in my life. To date, I can only speak of this horrific event due to the successful completion of Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy(EMDR Therapy), which I had believed to be a “cure all.” This particular incident in Israel was prior to the first launch attack on Iraq in an effort to liberate Kuwait. We, as a crew, had no time to grieve nor allow the realization of the situation to sink in. We immediately embarked on a two-hundred thirteen day, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, combat regime of the continuous bombing of Iraq. As a member of this crew, I completed two back-to-back tours of duty of Southwest Asia, which these incidents in my military career were the ultimate catalysts in me not being able to process traumatic events, leading to denial and repressing difficult memories.
For years after the Gulf War, after experiencing many highs and lows, my automatic response to life situations was, “I’m fine.” In retrospect, PTSD and related symptoms such as denial and repression, started soon after this major incident during the Gulf War. My problems have been continually perpetuated by severe denial and lead to the delay in me being able to seek proper treatment for PTSD until 2007, after my best friend and fellow naval comrad, committed suicide in 2006, suffering from his own struggles with PTSD.
For the first time in 2007, I sought treatment for my own battle with PTSD. However, the consequences of delay leading up to seeking proper treatment have been devastating, including the loss of my marriage, being an estranged parent from my son, an inability to manage daily stress, multiple hospitalizations, suicide attempts, trouble seeking a stable, permanent home, and my ability to hold steady employment.
For some time, I was a leader in the military community, teaching core values and leadership courses after rapid advancement. Outside the military, I sold financial products and services, eventually becoming Vice President of a brokerage firm at the pinnacle of my career earning over $100,000.00 a year. Becoming successful not only in the military but in my civilian professional life as well was an effort, in part, to manage the painful memories that would not fade and to avoid feeling the constant sense of danger. I simply started to lose my ability to live a normal, healthy life.
My behavior has been and still continues to be irratic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Feelings of being overwhelmed, accompanied by increased stress and pressure are completely debilitating to this very day, consequently leaving me unemployable. I’m currently unemployed and in desperate need of supplemental income to continue with proper treatment and to support and care for my family. Ninety-percent service-connected disability compensation is only $18,000 a year, well below the poverty level for someone needing to support a child, maintain a home, food, and transportation.
Currently, I’m under the care of the Las Vegas Veterans Clinic. I have been prescribed medications to manage my Bipolar 1, PTSD, and panic attacks. I also have ongoing treatment/counseling sessions at the VA clinic to help myself heal.
I tell my story to help other Veterans… Don’t give up!!!
I have come across a lot of people in my travels, even those closest to me, my “family,” who knew me at my best, turned their backs on me after tiring of my symptoms, not understanding unconditional support, not even a happy Veteran’s Day wish. To that I say, they have never walked one day in our shoes, served their country, risked there lives to uphold an established set of values they take for granted every single day… For those soldiers needing a friend to listen, feel free to contact me . We are a global family…
Douglas L. Thompson
US Navy/Gulf War Vet
*Special thanks to my father Kenneth R. Thompson & my mother Pamela Thompson of Dexter, Maine. Dad passed away last year but he always supported my service in the Navy and Gulf War. He was a very honorable man who reflected the values of Dexter, Maine and America.*