by Ken Smith
I must confess right upfront that this posting is a little self promotion. Well, kind of. Three months ago, a dear friend of mine that I have known for over 25-years contacted me with an urgent request concerning his son who had recently returned from Afghanistan. It was an appeal by a desperate father for help and as I thought about what he was asking me to do, I had an idea. This friend’s email went something like this:
“Ken, Can you help me out?” he said. “For the past two weeks our son Tony has been staying in the basement , sleeping all day, watching animal programs on TV most of the night, missing meals, drinking too much and today he lashed out screaming at my wife who was just trying to pick up his laundry. So, I’m worried. I know when you came back from the Vietnam War you told me that you had PTSD with nightmares and flashbacks; do you think that’s what’s wrong with my son?”
It got me to thinking about the solutions I had figured on my own over the years to deal with PTSD, without anyone telling me what to do. After Vietnam, there were no veteran outreach centers or PTSD groups who were talking about nightmares, and if you came right out and said you were having flashbacks, well, you risked getting tossed into the cracker bin.
My friend’s request prompted me to write down the different tactics and tricks I had used to deal with my own PTSD over the years and soon I had a small e-book that outlined the strategies.
I called it “PTSD Secrets for Survival”
I sent my friend this e-book in an email and two weeks later I started to get a dozen to twenty email requests a day asking me to send along my e-book book on PTSD. When I asked the emailers where they had heard about this PTSD e-book, I was usually told, it was a friend of a friend of another friend and they then repeated, could you please just email the PTSD book of secrets.
I then set about developing a website for this e-book to make it easier for others to download it for free
“I wasn’t prepared for what happened next”
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of downloads later; this e-book has started an avalanche of emails back to me. Mostly positive emails from grateful parents or vets, but also some emails that I just can’t put to print here, filled with vitriol, hatred and conspiracy theories about how I am making money off a free book. I received emails from moms, wives, kids, vets, family friends of vets, and even emails from people with PTSD that weren’t vets. Most emails are saying “thank you” but some are telling me I was the loser for going to Vietnam. Some desperately are asking if I could intervene on their behalf with a rather difficult family PTSD situation. I am overloaded now, and spend at least an hour or two a day, answering each email in the order that they arrived. I am about 15,000 or so emails behind. Little did I know the raw nerve endings that this little e-book would touch. It was almost like I had stepped onto the “Third Rail” of the American Veteran Psyche.
Just so you know, there are some interesting insights in this e-book for its readers, you included, and it has value, but it was intended only for my friend’s son, and yet, now, I feel I am helping other sons and daughters of other friends I have yet to meet.
For those of us who suffer with PTSD the core issues are those of loneliness, betrayal and anger. There are no words to describe how “Very Alone” PTSD can make you feel. One minute your living your life to its fullest and enjoying kids, family, ball games, cold beer and then “”BLAM”” you are all alone. That feeling is very scary. It reminds me of the movie where the actor wakes up in the big city one morning and there are no more humans, he is the very last man on earth.
Even today, forty years after the war, I can smell the rotting plants of the jungle some days. Old “Huey’s” flown by the Air Guard can make me look up and wonder about CA’s I took part in. Sometimes I can hear the sounds of the jungle animals at night in my dreams, and in my nightmares, I still get chills when all of a sudden the sounds of the jungle STOP, and all is quiet, because you knew in the Nam that you were about to be attacked or ambushed when all the animal sounds of the jungle stopped, everything went quiet, as someone was walking around in the dark out in front of you. Someone looking to kill you.
If you know someone who has PTSD, this is one small step for them and one giant leap for me. It will hopefully put them on the road to getting compensation as a goal, and that my friends, “That’s a good thing.”
For more than twenty-five years Ken Smith has been a leading advocate for veterans. A combat Vietnam veteran, Ken served during 1971-72 as a paramedic and an infantry squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. After his discharge, Ken continued his work as a paramedic in New England. On the streets of Boston he encountered growing numbers of homeless Vietnam veterans, and he became determined to both assist them and draw attention to their plight.
In 1989, Ken founded the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, located in a former VA hospital at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston. One of the first facilities designed for homeless veterans and now a national model, the shelter has served over 35,000 of America’s veterans who, for whatever reason, find themselves living on the streets.
In 1992 Ken was awarded Point of Light #142 by President George H. W. Bush, and later that same year received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, considered the “Oscar” for American veterans. As one of America’s foremost veterans service organizations, AMVETS (or American Veterans) has a proud history of assisting veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. Ken was awarded this honor along with Peter Coors, with whom he still maintains a personal friendship.
Over the years Ken has appeared on many national media programs including Good Morning America, Prime Time Live, ABC News, CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN, 60 Minutes, and The Geraldo Show. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and numerous international newspapers, magazines, and websites. In 1992, Ken had the distinction of addressing both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as a keynote speaker on the subject of veterans.
Ken recently left his last assignment with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, where he was the chief technology architect of the Veteran’s Vocational Technical Institute, Purple Heart Car Donation program, Purple Heart Call Center, Purple Heart Radio, Purple Heart Tech Support, Purple Heart Services, and over thirty new Purple Heart websites. Ken Smith provided the vision and has overseen the implementation of innovative, virtual, work-at-home training programs for veterans with combat disabilities. Ken has designed, upgraded, and supervised the integration and installation of Purple Heart Service Foundations computer and telephony systems, upgrading features from legacy POTS phones to SIP-trunked communications systems including establishing new VPN networks for teams of remote virtual employees.
An adventure sports enthusiast, Ken enjoys extreme skiing, competitive sailing, flying, and travel. He has traveled extensively worldwide, delivering his positive message to the veterans of other countries that a paraplegic veteran of the United States suffers the same as a paraplegic veteran of India; that an amputee veteran of Nepal suffers as much as an amputee veteran of France. Ken’s mentor was Harold Russell, the two-time Academy Award winner who starred in the 1946 film Best Years of Our Lives. A World War II veteran, on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Harold lost both of his hands. This ghastly misfortune did not stop him, and he went on to become the chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Disabilities. For over fifty years he served US presidents from Truman to Clinton. Ken was humbled and grateful when Harold agreed to serve as the best man at Ken’s wedding.
Ken has been instrumental in the planning stages for the Veterans Workshop, a new nationwide veterans’ advocacy group building a new “Veterans Hotline, and the development of special programs for those who have lost their sight or their hearing, or who have suffered spinal cord injury, as a result of their military experience. The Veterans Workshop provides a forum where new technology and advancements in the fields of prosthetic and orthotic solutions, many designed by Ken, are shared along with virtual training and employment programs.
A 1970 graduate of De La Salle Academy in Newport, Rhode Island, for the past twenty-five years Ken has continued his education with extensive college courses in computer technology and related social service fields. He resides in his native state of Rhode Island with his wife and children.