Remarkable stories of war told by those who fought for a proud nation. Their words. Their voices. Our first episodes tell riveting stories from World War II, then we move on to the Vietnam War and other dramatic conflicts.
CPT Shad Meshad: Psychiatric Teams in Vietnam Part II
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After earning his masters in psychiatric social work and completing basic training, Shad Meshad worked at Fort Leavenworth Military Prison as a mental health officer. Most of the prisoners were Vietnam veterans, and he provided them with treatment and a means to reintegrate into society.
After hearing the stories of veterans at Fort Leavenworth, Meshad decided he had to serve himself. He volunteered to serve in a KO team, which were the first psychiatric teams in American warfare. For five years, Captain Meshad was flown all around Vietnam to help evaluate and assist soldiers dealing with mental health issues.
When he returned home, Meshad founded and directed the Vietnam Veterans Re-Socialization Unit at the VA Hospital in Los Angeles, California. It was his job to reshape the VA in a way that better served Vietnam vets. It was during this time that CPT Meshad would become one of the first people to study the disorder now known as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
In 1979, Meshad founded the Vet Center Outreach Program, which created satellite centers that provide social and psychological services to any Veteran in order to help them transition back into civilian life.
Now, Meshad is the president of the National Veterans Foundation, which he founded in 1985. The NVF helps veterans that are unable to reach a Vet Center with financial problems, mental health issues, VA benefits, employment, housing, and more.
Warning, this episode mentions sex-work, and includes gore as a result of violence. Viewer discretion is advised.
Hi, I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. If you love listening to this show as much as I love hosting it, I think you’ll really like the Medal of Honor Podcast, produced in partnership with the Medal of Honor Museum. Each episode talks about a genuine American hero, and the actions that led to their receiving our nation’s highest award for valor. They’re just a few minutes each, so if you’re looking for a show to fill time between these warriors episodes, I think you’ll love the Medal of Honor Podcast. Search for the ‘Medal of Honor Podcast’ wherever you get your shows. Thanks.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
Warriors in Their Own Words is our attempt to present an unvarnished, unsanitized truth of what we have asked of those who defend this nation. Thank you for listening, and by doing so, honoring those who have served.
Today, we’ll be hearing from Captain Shad Meshad. Meshad served in Vietnam in a psychiatric team where he evaluated and assisted soldiers dealing with mental health issues. In this first part of his interview, he talks about working with Vietnam vets at Fort Leavenworth Military Prison, and his service in Vietnam.
Well, there was no definition for PTSD, stress or something like that they would use, we had nothing to work with. We literally went in there and played like we were at Beverly Hills mental health workers. And these soldiers would come in covered in all kinds of stuff, smell like dogs or whatever. There was nothing normal or whatever. You were strictly flying by the seat of your pants using everything you could. And even your diagnosis or whatever, stress, everything was acute stress, acute stress. I mean, wrote that so many times. And the fact that this could be psychotic because there's so many that had been out there and done horrific things or whatever. And the Cali trial was going on at the time, Kent State happened when I was in Vietnam. The riots in Long Bend Jail after Martin Luther King. I mean, there was so much chaos when I got there. And thank God for the hole, I had a little experience, but now I'm really in it. I'm smelling it, I'm flying in it. I mean, it's like improvise, adapt and improvise. Just like compact, you fly into a unit and get caught because they dropped me in and if a chopper couldn't get in, I'd be all night with either a artillery unit or a stand down unit with infantry soldiers. So I really got enmeshed into the war and listening to them. Because I looked very young and I didn't wear, I'm a psych or whatever at the hospital. The medics would call me psych or whatever, but basically was just Captain Shad. Eventually just Shad. I wanted to know, because I think just in my work the last 51 years, you have to know what's really going on to help anybody. And particularly with Combat Vets. They could sit and talk and it's like a movie or it's like some kind of story, but to really sniff it and smell it and fly into it, smell the burning diesel, smell the shit burning in diesel fuel, smell napalm after a napalm attack, having to do MedCaps whenever there's sort of quiet area. Some of us would fly in a dust off into a village. It had just been swept. Try to pick up the wounded and try to mostly were kids and women and try to give them some kind of a medical attention and just evacing. Picking up two and three year old kids and bringing them to the hospital, wondering, "What are we going to do with them?" I mean, it was all this kind of craziness that was going on. And I participated in that.
I was on R&R after the accident I had, we were shot down and I got beat up a little bit. I went on a in-country R&R in Saigon with the JAG officer that handled that case I spoke about earlier. We became very close because he was throwing me all these heavy cases to evaluate for court-martials. We went down there and we're just walking around Saigon. In Saigon, it was like 10 million people at that time from all over the country. It was a slum. And we walked through the black market and we saw these two kids on the curb with this little mama sign. They were about what was almost one, the other one was a little over one and a half, two years old. And they were selling them for one MPC, which was a dollar. Because they were orphans. And Jim, my sidekick had two kids, he was 27-year-old JAG officer. And I looked at them and I was always hoping to have 10 kids when I got out of this mess. A good Catholic boy from the south. And we bought them. So we've got two babies in our arms and we looked at each other, "What do we do now?" So we headed back to the hotel where we were staying, and it was an international hotel. It was like six bucks a night and there were prostitutes everywhere. They were GI, GI outside your room and everything. So we hired a couple of them, not for sex but to take care of these babies until we could figure out what the heck to do with them. And they were covered with bumps and stuff. They had rashes and things that we had no idea what their history was. And so we decided to take them to the 3rd Field Hospital, which was the largest hospital in the war in Saigon. And we took them and went in, we were both captains, so we could walk right into triage and everything. And we found some nurses and they put some stuff on them and clean the kids up or whatever. We didn't say anything it were ours. We say we're going to return them somewhere. And we spent the day with them. And that was a mistake. That was a real mistake because we got really attached to them. We go back to the hotel, we didn't know what to feed them. He did, he had had a couple of kids. But you're in Saigon in the middle of the war. What are you going to buy? What are you going to do? The boom boom girls knew what to do and take care of them. But we run out of time. We just had four days and I got to head back to my unit, he's got to head back. And so we started looking for an orphanage and luckily we found an Australian orphanage in Saigon right on the outskirts. And we carried the two kids there and we begged them to take them. Cost us a 100 MPC, I think it was for both of them. It could have been a 100 MPC to take them off our hands. But that was a mind fuck, let me tell you. Tell it like it is. You've been with these kids for days, whatever, you've been taking care of them. And then when they opened the doors, there were probably about 300 kids sitting on out there in the dirt with volunteers and stuff trying to maintain them and felt like we kind of dumped them. And never forgot that. And we headed back and Jim was never the same. I mean, it really cost him when he went back. And then I went to another assignment in III Corps in the Long Binh area.
But it was things like that I could go on and on. But it was just those type of experiences. I was court-martialed for my mustache. That's why it's still on what's left of it. It was called the famous mustache case of 1970. I was very popular, particularly with enlisted in those that hated officers. Because when I went on R&R, I'd been nominated for Bronze Star for achievement. Not for combat, for my commanding officer that had me flying all over one and two corps when I first started very close to him. And a new commander came in, hospital commander, never been in a war zone, decided that everybody's going to be stateside, we're going to have our hair cut, military cut, sideburns gone. Mustache is gone. I'm surprised he wanted take my eyebrows off. He probably would have because it looked like I had three mustaches. And I had a legal mustache and I had a legal, everybody, the surgeons had chops and we're surgical hospital, we're not combatant. I saw combatants that looked more like dog soldiers than us.
And he decided, I was flying up to one of the hospitals, my last assignment with the colonel and I came back and he was gone. And we had the new colonel and everybody comes up and says, "Hey, watch out for Wiener. Wiener's after everybody. He's trying to get everybody to do this and no cussing and what the fuck." And sure enough, I come in, I land on the helipad, I'm coming through triage and the XO is this West pointer guy, I never forgot. And he goes, "There's one right there, there's one." "There's one what?"
The next thing you know I run into this guy in the latrine outside taking, cleaning up the latrine area for officers and stuff. It's just basically a wooden shed and stuff. I was trimming, whatever. And he came up and says, "Keep cutting, keep cutting." And I was just shaving, trying to look appropriate. I've been gone for a week. And he says, "I know who you are, by tomorrow I want that mustache off." And I looked at him, I said, "What the fuck are you talking about? Who are you?" And he says, "I'm the XO." And so the next day he runs into me and it's not gone. And before you know it they pull me into the colonels, the new head, Wiener. And he goes, "I hear you refused a command to shave your mustache off." And I say, "I don't have to shave my mustache off. It's legal." He said, "Not here, I'm changing the policy." I said, "Well, I'm not shaving it off." And he said, "You're going to have repercussions."
So I left and I'm going, "Man, everybody's looking what's going on." And I get a knock on the door at my hooch in about oh, 17:00, whatever. And it's XO going, you need to come back down or whatever to the office. I come down there and I'm like, wow. In the meantime I call my JAG officer and I said, "Can you believe what's going on?" Because he was with the general only about two or three clicks away in Da Nang. He said, "You don't have to shave it off or whatever." So I said, "Well, I'll let you know what happens." I go in, they decide to give me an article 15, a $10,000 fine, which was my salary for the whole year. Can you imagine for a captain in Vietnam. They gave me an article 15. I said, "I refuse." And I knew that as an officer, as a 03 officer that I could refuse it and ask for a court-martial. So I refused it. And they said, "If you refuse, we're going to have to court-martial you." And I said, "Dude, you got to be kidding me. court-martial me." And so they went through the proceedings and then I get to select the kind of court-martial I want. I don't want a special, a want general court-martial. I want everybody to know that I got a general court-martial for this. And sure enough, they file a general court-martial. And Jim, my buddy, the JAG officer couldn't believe it. He's going, "You got to be out of your mind, whatever. Don't worry about it. This will never go to, I mean don't even worry about it." Then I get restricted because I've been flying all around. I'm the human service officers for I and II Corps. All that's changed, that's removed. I have to sit there. All I can do is go to the clinic. And so I go to the clinic, I'm waiting to hear where this is going to go and I'm not choking but I'm going, "Wow." I was going up for a bronze star and a month later I'm going up for a general court-martial, just kind of hit me how absurd this is everything else.
And so all of a sudden I get the notice and the court-martial is, it’s in early September. I'm grounded. And the paperwork goes over to the general, of course my JAG officer works for the general, but it's processed and he's going through the paperwork. I wasn't there. And the commander and the XO were there over at the generals, the command office. And he pulls up the accusations about refusing to shave a mustache. And he looks at Jim, he looks at that and he says, "What the fuck is going on in this army?" The commander within a month was removed of his command. The XO was removed from his command, but I had to be punished. The head of psychiatry came up from Saigon, heard about this mental outburst, that's a problem going up against the commands.
So I get transferred down south of III Corps. That was my punishment because they couldn't punish me. But I spent nine months. I mean, everyone in there still, the ones that are alive are still my best friends. I mean, we saw things.
I had had probably the most traumatic night of my life. I was the first night I was AOD administrative officer of the day, my second month in country. So, I'm the commanding officer from, what is it? Let me get this right. 19:00 to 07:00 in the morning I got a 24-hour duty call. And so I'm now in charge of the hospital. What happens? That night, nine o'clock, "Whiskey three, this is Red Bird 2, we got mass casualties. A 101st infantry coming in, coming to your hospital. Everybody's overloaded." Okay, you're looking, you hit this button, it gets everybody open. You've seen MASH, all the alarms are going off, the nurses, the surgeons are coming in. Boom, the hospital is rattling, the choppers are coming in off the South China Sea in there unloading, filling the gurneys up, coming down the runway, opening into triage and dumping GIs on the ground like sandbags. Boom, this goes on for an hour. 10, 15, 25, 30, 35. And ends up being. And thank God the general surgeon, a good Alabama boy, just start sorting, start sorting. And we're in there. You're sorting through Black Friday shopping. These are bodies and some are in pieces or whatever. And I'm starting to faint. I mean, it was just trying to drag and see who's screaming and who's what. It was total chaos for me. And the surgeons are coming in and the medics are getting in control. And big Jim pops me, he says, "I need you, bam." He hits me and I start. We had four tables, four at a time to get up on the table. But I throw this big green berets, this redheaded kid. Kid, he's a captain, get him up on the table and I'm starting to see what's going on. It's hysteria because people are screaming and yelling and bodies are being thrown in. The choppers are rattling the thing. And Big Williams, the surgeon comes over and says, pushes him off the table. He says, only the live ones. Well, and I look when he threw him off there, the back of his head was gone. He looked totally normal to me facing up. And it was like wow.
And it was one thing after another and next thing there's this guy screaming. I go down there and I look down and there's just a half a body and he's talking to me, "Tell my mother. God, pray for, don't let me die." Says, "You're not going to die. You're not going to die. I'm here with you." And I'm looking down and I'm seeing there's nothing down there and he's just bleeding out. And he succumbs and I couldn't get his grip off of my hand. Literally two medics had to come over and almost break his hand to Unlatch. And that haunted me for a long time.
So this goes on all night. Some are going into surgery, some are dead. When things slow down about three o'clock I've got 12 to 13 dead GIs that have been stripped. If they weren't dead already, if they were not stripped, I had to take one at a time with a medic and strip them down. We had a niche on the dog tags. We had to open their jaw lock the dog tag in. So in case they got messed up or lost or misidentification, at least they could pry the jaw open to get the dog tag out. So, we're sitting there stripping them down and one of the other medics is bringing the body bags. We had to take all their valuables, they had a bag that's corduroy bag or whatever that had to match. We put their watches and pictures and stuff. And it was just dramatic pulling out pictures of their girlfriends, their mothers, their kids, and putting that in the bag and seat on it and then sticking it in the body bag after you had locked the pallet and zipping it and then storing it. And did that for about two hours. And then I was covered in blood. I mean it sounds like a horror show, but this was the horrific night of my life.
And then I had to go down to the commander's office. I was the temporary commander at five in the morning. And contact Saigon and you're trying to, you got all the names of everything. I had to report the dead, the wounded, this or that. Luckily one of the assistant sergeants came in to help me because I'm just kind of in shock and I'm like, "Wow." And I'm keep thinking of Big Red, who was this? I had to strip him eventually. And he had all his kids, his second, third tour, Green Beret and just, he looked totally normal. Except didn't have the back of his head. I just weird stuff that I don't think many people will ever see.
So 07:00 comes in, I go, the new commander comes in and says, you hung in there kid or whatever so far. I go back to my hooch, I collapse 30 minutes later, medics pounded on my door. I guess I got traumatized by Big Red. I didn't put it in the body bag. So they said, "You've got to go back." And we had these steel Conexes where we stored the bodies until during the day when more could come over and pick him up, take him over to Da Nang airbase. I had to go back into it. It's like 115 degrees. These bodies are in these steel conexes. It's like 140 in there. And I had to find Big Red to put his stuff in. And luckily on the fourth body bag, because I can't even tell you the heat and the stench, I had to strap it onto his neck because rigor mortis had set in. And I went back to my room and I just prayed I would never remember that day.
Let me tell you, after the court-martial coming back, I knew how fucked up I felt. I mean, just wondering why I ever volunteered. And yet I was kind of like, what ... I mean, this was more than I think anybody could handle. Because I was in so many different settings and whatever. But I remember every time I was locked in with a unit on a stand down or whatever, and just thinking, "I could have been leading that group, maybe lasted a week." And thinking of how they were treated, how poor the services were. How the politics had gotten in by the time I was there, '68, '69, '70. 18, 19 year olds, that's who fought the war. They were the ones on the ground. How the fuck are they going to move from here? They're going to land against, we got all these doves now and they're going to look at you. They're going to, which they did confuse the war between the warrior. We lost the war, but we didn't lose a battle. Mean none of it made sense.
So I come back, I went to the VA for a few days. I was numb, I landed. I would sleep during the day and be up at night. That was my routine anyway for the first week or two. And my folks knew that I was different. And here I was, good old Shad, going to work in a mental hygiene clinic and be a regular what? No way, I didn't know what to do. And one of my sergeants, one of the sergeants was drafted out of USC and he was back at USC and his master's program in psychology. And he begged me because we were ... I mean, I didn't get into all the closeness that happens in a crazy scene like that for those that survive it. And even the MASH hospitals or whatever, we were all affected. We now know secondary trauma. But anyway, that was down the road. And I just knew, and I didn't know what I was going to do.
So I had a 19-year-old girlfriend. We eventually said, "I got to get out of here. My folks know I'm different. I can't watch TV because the war's going on. I feel like I should be there. I was more comfortable there. What am I doing home?" So I guess had to go see my sergeants in Los Angeles. Here I am, I'm going to LA just to see him. And then I planned to go to San Francisco and unwind. So many you'd hear back to the world, heading to the West Coast, going to San Francisco, hang out with the hippies. I don't know, I hadn't even smoked dope yet. I said, wow, man, now I can try that without going to jail for three years. So I get my truck, I got everything I own, my girl. I'm turning 26, she's 19. We head across country. And I landed on my sergeant's place right near USC and pulling in my truck. And we was just hugging him. He says, "You got to go with me." He says, "It's a lecture. The number one psychiatrist in the world, head of all psychiatry in the world. He's over NPI, UCLA and over the VA or whatever. And I'm hoping, you got to come, I want him to meet you." I'm in navy bells that I got. I got a knit shirt. I'm growing chops now. Fuck the mustache. Let's just see how far it can go. Trying to get my, what little hair I had at the time, just trying to look not so military. And my girl is, she's blue eyed, gorgeous, blonde down past her butt. And we go over to USC, there's big lecture halls, 500, all these mental health people. And I'm standing on the side, I think they thought I was a janitor, except for my girl. And sat on the side. And there's this British psychiatrist, Dr. Philip May in this silver suit, lecturing and talking about psychiatry of the future and mental health and whatever. I'm not, it's like, "Wow, mental health, man, come talk to me." And sure enough, the thing ends. And I'm waiting for Bob. And Bob runs up to him and gets him to meet me. And I'm like, "No, no, no, I don't want to meet this guy, whatever." And he introduces me to him and he says, "This is my commanding officer in Vietnam. And I just want you to meet my commanding officer. I want you to meet Dr." And he just looked at me and says, "You were a mental health officer in Vietnam? I'm taking you to lunch tomorrow. And he says, “I have to talk to you." And I said, "I'm looking, you want to talk to me? What do you want to talk to?" He says, "No, I want to take you to lunch. I've got to talk to you." And I said, "Well, I'm leaving to San Francisco." And he says, tomorrow and Bob says, "No, I'll tell him where it is. It's in Westwood somewhere." I don't know where Westwood is. I haven't seen anything but coming in off 10 into LA. And so I agree. All right, I'll go for lunch. We're staying in an attic where my sergeant said in an old building right across the street from USC, we're just parked there. My truck in the back with everything.
So the next day I go to Westwood to this place. It's right across from UCLA. And there Dr. Phil May comes in, I look like a hippie and he looks like a very conservative psychiatrist with a British accent. And he tells me that he needs the largest VA psychiatric hospital assessed. And I said, "For what?" He says, "We have over 335,000 Vietnam era vets in this county and only 7% come to this VA. And mostly by police and by ambulance." And I said, "What's that got to do with me? That's not my problem." He says, "No." He says, "I need someone that was there that has a mental health background to tell us what we're doing wrong." I said, "Are you kidding me? I just came out of the largest bureaucracy in the world. I've been in the craziest war ever. I'm heading to San Francisco. I got to get a lot of this stuff out of my head. I don't need to be assessing another fucked up place." And he says, "Please." We talked, whatever. And I said, "Maybe in a few years." And he was pretty persistent.
So, I go back, and sure enough, I head up to San Francisco. I had a couple of friends that were up there. I went on leave there in '69 for a week. And I really wanted to live up there. It was amazing, particularly for someone that hadn't been west of the Mississippi. And the first night I'm in my friend's house, because I'm connected to my sergeant. The phone rings, pick up the phone. "This is Joe Jenner's apartment." "This is Dr. May, is Shad Meshad there?" I said, "Dr. May, are you kidding me? How'd you get this number?" You got to remember this was just a landline phone in somebody's apartment where I'm staying. And Frazier my buddy, he'd given him where I was staying. He called every day for the week trying to tell me about the problems there, whatever. And I'm trying to figure out with my girl. I don't know how to hang, I don't know how to be a hippie. I've been in school, my life, military. Here I am. You're 19, I'm 26. I don't know where we're going. I don't know if I can just hang out. I don't have a roadmap or whatever. And she was getting antsy, because she wanted to work, settle down or whatever. And after a week he offered me a 90 day TDY under psychiatry to review the hospital. And I figured, "Well, at least I'll be doing something because I'm going crazy just trying to figure out what's going on." I still got the war playing in my head.
Head down to LA. I go the first day to the VA, I see Dr. May, he has me come in. They're all of his staff, all psychiatrists, psychologists, all in white uniforms with name tags in a circle. I walk in, my chops have gotten bigger, my hair's a little bushier. I'm still looking like a hippie. And he says, "This is the man that is going to evaluate this hospital, from the mental health clinic to the inpatient wards to everything and anything and give an assessment." And the room was dead silence. And I'm looking at these guys and it looks like something in a Woody Allen movie, all just sitting there in their white with their name tags. Nobody's talking. No one moves. They kind of look like they squinched a little bit. And their face like, ‘Who the hell? What the hell's happening?’
Well, Dr. May had that kind of power. Because they were in the process of hiring director of the hospital there, the largest one, a new one, and a chief medical director and a chief of psychiatry. And they were all candidates. But here I'm coming in to evaluate it.
So the first day I go into evaluations. Evaluations has this German psychiatrist that is head of evaluations. And he sits there, he talks with a German accent. He almost looked like a SS officer. And he's throwing Vietnam vets out because they've got patches on their sleeve. FTA, ‘fuck the army’ on or whatever, coming for help. Immediately unpatriotic out. He's throwing half of the people out of there. So, that's number one.
I had two vets that were on the psychiatric ward with another German psychiatrist, female, who taped her interview with them about why and what they were doing and why they were in this hospital and what they did in the war, whatever. And she taped them without them knowing it. And they found out. And they broke into her office and stole and destroyed the tapes. They were caught and kicked out of the hospital by her. That's the second day. And then I'm told to go find them. Now I'm in a three quarter ton truck. I've never been to the beach. They find out they're at Venice Beach. There was an old pier called POP Pier, Condemned Pier. So I drive down there and finally found it. And they're under there with Time and what's the other magazine? Time and Life or Look magazine with them interviewing them about the conditions at the VA hospital. And I walk up and they got beards and long hair. And I sit down and I said, "I'm Shad Meshad, I'm the new mental health person at the VA, Vietnam vet mental health person. And I hear you had some problems." And they looked at me like, "Who the hell are you?" And I said, "Yeah, I hear you got kicked off the ward and I want to take you back. I'm concerned." They said, “You’re concerned? Who are you?" And I sat down with him and one of them was a southern boy from Texas. So he had recognized my accent before we were talking, and I just talking like I meet another vet about where I was, what I did, and whatever, and he said, okay. Threw them in the truck, didn't have a phone. Drove back up to the hospital, go into the administrative thing with these two guys and Dr. May has them put in a special room in the administration building and assign me to them.
And that was the start of the journey. And from there on, after I did the 90 day assessment, I gave the hospital a FF Plus. And why all these problems from admissions to the fact that the staff were afraid of Vietnam vets. Vietnam vets were treated like they were third class citizens coming in. Nobody wanted to work with them. That got around because the VA didn't have a great reputation anyway as far as being a warm and fuzzy place to trust. And so they said, "Okay, we want you to deal with it and fix it. We'll start your own unit." So I started the Vietnam Veterans Resocialization unit, and I hired a couple of street vets and a VSO a veteran service officer, whatever. And I said, "I'll bring them to you, but you're not going to find them here." I went out back to Venice Beach where these guys took me back and showed me that POP pier, the condemned Pier house, over 250 Vietnam vets. I said, "Really? It just looks like a old pier standing there." So they took me into a trap door upstairs to the pier and the whole world opened up. All of the condemned parts and rides and everything were filled with tents and plywood. And that's where I met ... My history started with Vietnam vets.
And from there it went from Coral Canyon, which was above Malibu, up in the canyons where a marine group of veterans had set up a fire base up there hidden from whatever covered with camouflage setting over there were about 150 that lived up there with girlfriends or whatever. It was like a commune of combat vets. And that was a whole story in itself.
In fact, 10 years later, 60 Minutes covered it with me. We went back to revisit that. And during the '70s, I was one of the spokespersons for Vietnam vets struggling with what was called in one time magazine by psychiatrist post-Vietnam syndrome. They're not psychotic, they're not character disorders. They have post-Vietnam syndrome. Well, what the hell is post Vietnam syndrome? Well, the VA was using PVS, but it has no diagnostic value. Doesn't really say anything except that they're different. So, if they don't have psychosis and they don't have character disorders, how does PVS work?
And in '74 I got a call from a grad student working on his PhD in Purdue, well now Dr. Charles Figley, who was doing research, he was a Marine Vietnam vet in the early years of the war and was writing about distress. Which I was asked earlier in this show about, "What did you call it, whatever?" Well, he was calling it delayed post-traumatic stress. Delayed traumatic stress. We didn't have all, that's all we had. So we went to a conference, two, three years in a row, the APA talking about post ... No delayed traumatic stress. We kept fighting them to say, "Hey, this is a condition. It needs to be in the psychiatric cookbook textbook. It needs to be in there."
By '78, Figley edited and published a book called Delayed Stress amongst Vietnam Vets. By that time many of us had been squawking. We saw the war end '75, we saw the POWs come back partially. The focus was on the war. The movies were starting to come out about it and Congress finally looked at what we were talking about. And it put pressure on the APA to come up with a definition for this delayed traumatic stress. And they came up with, late '79, became official in 1980 in the DSM three, post-traumatic stress disorder. And that was the beginning of this disorder's naming.
Now, it's evolved quite a bit in the last 40 years, but at least we had a diagnosis. And it took years for the VA to utilize tha, because if you got compensation, you had to be either psychotic or character disorder. Well, that's ridiculous. You couldn't have six to 7 million psychotic fighters coming back if there's not a definition, if you want to call them psychotic. And the character disorder means they can't obey orders, they can't take directions or whatever. I mean, golly, what do you think a war veteran or war fighter is? I mean, you live by being able to adapt and take directions and achieve the mission or whatever. And that gets no compensation. And when I came to the VA in West LA in the early '70s, a lot of Vietnam vets who were really sick with PTSD didn't have the diagnosis, so they'd play crazy. And they would get a disability rating, maybe 30% for psychosis. And I told them, "You don't want to do that because you're going to be locked into medication and that diagnosis, you're never going to get work. You're not going to have a life." I fought many of them about it, but many of them did it. And the other character disorders had to wait until the '80s to find out that they had PTSD.
So it's been going on all through the '80s. We realized that PTSD, people thought it was a Vietnam vet disorder, we know that trauma's been around. If you read the great Grecian writings, 4,000 years ago it had different names. In the 19th, 20th century, soldiers fatigue, combat stress, shell shock. I mean, they had all these names. It was never in the psychiatric journal. And now we have PTSD and it's had its challenges. But I've been a component.
Dr. Charles Figley, who really was one of the key components along with Dr. Heim Shatan, Robert Lifton out of Yale, a lot of these people that really knew that there wasn't a proper diagnosis for this type of near death experience, which combat is. And surviving it, and how it changes the brain and everything. We know so much more now that it's incredible. But that's kind of my story I've been involved in it. Helped set up the Vet Center program under Jimmy Carter Max Cleland in '78, '79. It became public law 96-22. Was involved with the setup of the first 100 before I left and started the National Veterans Foundation in '85. And we've been rolling 37 years. Just recently worked with over 500,000 veterans and their families and kids, and not a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, but there's still a lot of problems with the VA leadership. And that's pretty much a quick version of my history.
That was Captain Shad Meshad. To learn more about him, check out his memoir, Captain for Dark Mornings. The link is in the show description.
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