VA treats PTSD through 'Exposure Therapy'

By Tracey Amick  bio | email

MT. PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - Sgt. John C. Lowe was a platoon commander in Vietnam. When he got back from the war he tried not to think about it, but it didn't work.

"Holding my men when they're dying telling them they're not dying and knowing they are -- that's what hurts," Lowe said.

He started drinking and looking for fights, and even blew up around his family.

"He was celebrating me coming home and threw a roll of firecrackers out in the yard, I dove in a mud puddle then got up and boxed the car, and raised cane," Lowe said.

Lowe knew then he had a problem.

"They said I was suffering with anxiety and depression, didn't have a name for it then," Lowe said.

But they have a name for it now -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- and it affects close to 18 percent of combat veterans.

"If you confronted me on the street I'd probably tear your head off something like that, I didn't like people didn't like to be around people," Lowe said.

So he spent more than 40 years hiding from his problem and avoiding triggers like crowds and loud noises- but now he is in exposure therapy at the Ralph Johnson VA Hospital in Charleston.

"It gives me the tools to face straight on what's coming at me rather than running away," Lowe said.

Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant is invaluable for this therapy, with the USS Yorktown, the fighter jets, and the Vietnam Naval support camp.

Lowe says its not just seeing and touching the equipment out there but the smells at the base camp that bring it all back.

"The canvas, the rubber they use, and the jeeps- the seats and everything," Lowe said.

Lowe says his family sees the difference of this therapy and so does he.

"I can actually smile now I hadn't smiled in years," he said.

"Today I can think about it and it hurts it'll never be gone, but I have the tools to face it. It wasn't my fault," Lowe said.

Confronting his demons head on, and winning the war within.

Dr. Matthew Yoder is Lowe's therapist and says the majority of people with PTSD are not diagnosed, and many do not realize the help that is available to veterans through the VA.

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