Helping military veterans navigate through some of life's tough moments

Vietnam War veteran understands the importance of camaraderie and helping others.
Posted at 9:19 AM, Nov 03, 2023

MILWAUKEE — The Vietnam War was a long, costly, and divisive conflict in U.S. history. It resulted in more than a million people dying, including 58,000 Americans in Vietnam.

"By and large, it was a really horrifying experience to be honest with you. I suffered from survivor's guilt, because a lot of people got killed and I didn't...thank God."

Alvin Flowers served as a U.S. Marine from 1968-1971. He describes the group he was with as the elite of the Marine Corps.

"Reconnaissance, which is special operations, we were the guys that were out there 7-man teams with the light green and dark green camouflage. We gathered intelligence, our job was not to engage the enemy, but to gather intelligence on troop strength, enemy movements, that kind of thing," said Flowers.

He was just 19 years old and like many veterans, he found it hard to forget what he saw.

"I felt like I was not of the normal race anymore, having experienced that in Vietnam...the carnage, that kind of thing," he said.

He suffered from what's known today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition that develops following a traumatic event characterized by intrusive thoughts about the incident, recurrent distress/anxiety, flashback and avoidance of similar situations.

"See the PTSD diagnosis didn't exist then, there was no such thing. It was called battle fatigue or combat kind of stuff. There was no diagnosis at that time," said Flowers.

He says continuous nightmares and flashbacks caused him to eventually be hospitalized but following treatment, he started to feel more like his old self again. Mr. Flowers even obtained an advanced degree in mental health and human behavior, so that he could help other vets. He's now retired from the V.A. where he worked as a readjustment counselor for mental health.

Veterans are not only treated for medical issues here at the VA Hospital. They also receive a lot of resources dealing with mental health and overall well-being.

"When we look at how you're able to help other veterans today who are still battling PTSD and other things, how do you help them? Well, I help by giving them information. Helping them get their benefits, letting them know they are not alone and it's therapeutic for me," said Flowers.

Vietnam Vet Pat Wallace participates in an occupational therapy class at the VA Hospital.

"Everyone sticks together, if somebodies having a hard day or maybe they've had an operation or they're hurting one way or another, there's people that will help," said Wallace.

Every veteran has his or her own story and whether a soldier or a civilian...they understand they are stronger together.