RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Vietnam veterans are seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder in greater numbers ever since the Iraq War began. A number of factors could be at play. But it's clear that for some veterans, the Iraq War is stirring up ghosts of the past.
NPR's Libby Lewis reports.
LIBBY LEWIS: You can't get to Jim Hale without his knowing it. He lives with his wife, Deena, on a high ridge in the Ozarks, 10 miles from any paved road.
JIM HALE: This ridge is about three-quarters of a mile long. We live at the end of it. And there's 600-foot drop offs on all sides. We're strategically in a perfect defensive position.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LEWIS: Jim Hale is a big burly guy. His eyes crinkle when he laughs. In 1968 on Phu Quoc Island, he ran the electrical generators for the U.S. military. Now, he lives off the grid. The house he built runs mostly off solar panels and batteries and what's on the land.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)
LEWIS: He walks every day to get water from the well he built. He's always gotten nervous alone at night, always been a bad sleeper, fought with his wife. But he says here, in the middle of nowhere, he thought he was doing mostly all right.
HALE: Waste not, want not.
LEWIS: Hale says that began to shift as the U.S. began laying the groundwork to invade Iraq.
HALE: We were watching it rerun. This is the actual rerun of the Vietnam War.
LEWIS: He says for him, it started with one of his Vietnam buddies, Frank.
HALE: The anger and the betrayal that he had carried for all those years - when this new war - which was getting ready to start, it took him to a whole new level.
LEWIS: Hale says he got pulled emotionally into helping Frank and another war buddy. All the while, he was listening to the news about Iraq on his battery- powered radio. Then, he found those feelings creeping up on him. Deena pushed him to go get help too.
VA: from aging vets with more time on their hands, to vets trying to game the system for government benefits. A number of experts, including those at the VA, say Iraq has had a role in the numbers.
John Wilson is an expert on PTSD in Vietnam vets. He's convinced Iraq is a significant factor in the spike.
JOHN WILSON: It brings back to them their own experiences in Vietnam, and it brings back the pain and frustration that they've had to endure since they were discharged three decades ago.
LEWIS: Wilson thinks the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam figure into it. The fact that there's no front, no safe place, uncertainty about who the enemy is, uncertainties that can lead to mistakes.
Steve Harris is an Arkansas psychologist who works with the VA. He's worked with veterans of both wars. He says the problems are the same.
STEVE HARRIS: They've seen things. They've done things that they can't accept either, and that's where the problems seem to lie.
LEWIS: Jim Hale says Iraq was the trigger that brought him to see Harris two years ago. Harris diagnosed him with PTSD and Hale has been going for counseling twice a month since then. Hale says the counseling has helped him bring things from the back of his mind to where he can deal with them. Like the time he remembers, in late '68, on Phu Quoc Island.
The military was shutting down the air base and turning it over to the Vietnamese. Hale says he was one of the last airmen left on the base. He remembers what they thought was enemy fire. He remembers firing his M-16 into the jungle. And he remembers finding out it was civilians he and his buddies had shot, not Viet Cong soldiers.
HALE: And it was so bad that the Air Force flew in a C-130 Medevac.
LEWIS: He didn't remember much else for all those years, until he'd told the story to Steve Harris about 10 times. Then the rest came back to him.
HALE: I remembered I turned around. I did a 180. I couldn't look anymore. I remember feeling like I was a coward because I couldn't look. But I remember telling myself I'm going to turn around and face the dark. I don't have to see it.
LEWIS: Jim Hale feels like he's dealing with it now. He's not alone. At the local VA mental health clinic in Fayetteville, the parking lot is packed with old cars and small pick up trucks, more often than not, have bumper stickers that tell you the driver's a Vietnam vet.
Libby Lewis, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: To hear Jim Hale talk about how Iraq has lead to new pain from his experience in Vietnam, go to npr.org.