Veterans Recount Their Struggles with Touro DPT Students
SHS Students Listen and Learn
In 1967, James Anderson spent his Thanksgiving in Vietnam. His squad had been in a three-day firefight, but were told to pull back as they approached the border of Cambodia. Nine of his friends had been killed in the battle. While Anderson and a friend ate the hot rations that the army sent them in honor of the holiday, he gestured to the nine body bags across the road.
“Isn’t it strange,” he asked. “That we know they’re dead and their family doesn’t?”
“War makes you numb,” Anderson explained to Janaki Patel, a first-year student at Touro College School of Health Science (SHS) Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program, who sat across from him. After he returned from Vietnam, Anderson was plagued by nightmares and an undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. He began to drink. His marriage disintegrated. Anderson said that without the treatment he received at the VA hospital, he probably would have killed himself years ago. Talking, he found, helps. “You have to get it out. I buried this for years.”
Patel and six of her classmates, all first-year students at the SHS Manhattan Campus, spoke with the seven veterans who served during the Vietnam War. The meeting, held on Oct 14 at the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System in Manhattan, was beneficial for both veterans and students. The veterans were able to talk about their experience during and after the war to attentive listeners, and the students fulfilled a class assignment by documenting the history of an elderly individual.
The idea of the meeting came from Touro SHS Associate Professor Dr. Shira Schecter Weiner. Last year, a student, Yosef Borenstein, had visited the VA hospital to complete the assignment. Based on Yosef's remarkable experience, which was featured on Touro's social media, Dr. Weiner decided to offer the opportunity to members of the new class.
“The purpose of the requirement is to interview an older individuals and teach our students to be sensitive to retrieving information and listening in a useful manner,” she said.
Claudie Benjamin, Public Affairs Specialist for the VA NY Healthcare Hospital, was receptive to the idea.
“Veterans like to talk about their history,” she said. “It’s an acknowledgment that it was an honor to serve their country.”
At another table, Tani Quintano spoke quietly to Touro student Ulin Li about his struggles. “I was called a baby-killer when I got home,” said Tani. “I started self-medicating with alcohol.” Moments later, Ulin congratulated Tani on remaining sober for 28 years.
SHS Student Perry Tang was particularly excited about the opportunity. “I want to work with veterans,” he said. “When they come back from war their injuries are severe and they can use all the help they can get.”
During the hour-long meeting, the veterans shared harrowing stories of survival during the war and the issues they faced when they arrived back in the United States. John Mellet remembered how an Air Force pilot without ammo had saved his squad by flying low and distracting Vietcong fighters. Ingram Craig Martin, a member of the 26th Marine Regiment, spent four years in Vietnam and was wounded twice. “Most people didn’t understand what we went through,” he said.
After the meeting, students and veterans stood together for a photograph by an American flag.
Patel, who sat across from Anderson, called it eye-opening.
“You think you know what veterans experienced, but you don’t,” she said.