(BPT) - Bobby Barrera’s career as a Marine ended abruptly at age 21. While in Vietnam, on his first mission, a land mine explosion took his right hand at the wrist and left arm at the shoulder, and left him with severe burns over 40 percent of his body and face.
Coping with the physical challenges of his injuries and struggling to find a new purpose for life was almost easy compared to dealing with the psychological impact of war trauma: something that would remain with Bobby for the next 40 years.
Bobby went on to marry and have a family. His children had children, and he created a fulfilling and meaningful life for himself. He returned to college to earn a master’s degree in guidance and counseling. For nearly four decades, Bobby counseled veterans with mental health challenges caused by war and volunteered with DAV (Disabled American Veterans), a veterans service organization that helps veterans of all generations get the benefits and services they’ve earned. He went on to become the national commander of DAV in 2009. What Bobby didn’t realize — or want to admit — was that for more than 40 years, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It wasn’t until Bobby and his wife moved to San Antonio, Texas, to retire that his PTSD symptoms became overwhelming. After moving, Bobby felt immediately lost. Being new in town, losing his network of friends, no longer working and coping with chronic pain triggered long-suppressed symptoms of PTSD. Soon, the nightmares began. Then came mood swings, increased anxiety, and feelings of isolation and hopelessness — and eventually, thoughts of suicide.
Bobby’s wife pushed him to seek help — which led to a PTSD diagnosis. He questioned how he could have overlooked his own signs of PTSD for so many decades, while helping countless other veterans who struggled with it.
PTSD symptoms are caused by experiencing traumatic events and not by an inherent individual weakness. Roughly 15 percent of Vietnam veterans are impacted by PTSD, and an estimated 20 percent of recent war veterans have symptoms of PTSD or depression. It can lead to a higher risk for unemployment, homelessness or suicide.
Bobby is learning how to cope with his diagnosis. He is meeting more people, getting involved at church and spending time with his family. He began to volunteer again. His recovery is ongoing. Bobby credits his wife for encouraging him to ask for help and believes that doing so gave him yet another chance at life.
If you are struggling with symptoms of PTSD, you are not alone. Resources are available at www.DAV.org/veterans/resources. If your situation is critical, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.