Nevada County Veterans talk about struggles after their service
Special to the Sierra Sun
Tom Munroe, a Grass Valley resident who concluded his 19-month long military service in 1969, said very few soldiers returning from Vietnam received any meaningful reception.
Munroe said that reception, or lack of it, inspired a 30-year stint at IBM in Berkeley that went, for the most part, uninterrupted by any secondhand mental effects caused by his military service.
“I was an IBM service rep, so I was always dealing with some tense situation where someone had some equipment that wasn’t working,” Munroe said. “Their productivity had stopped and they had to get it going again. It was an adrenaline-producing situation.”
In 1998, Munroe half-retired and moved to Grass Valley. As he willfully slowed his pace of life to slow down, he began to reckon with memories from his time in Vietnam.
“I can remember talking with another veteran in the mid-90s,” Munroe said. “He was also a combat veteran and we heard someone say something about PTSD and both of us scoffed — ‘We don’t have that.’”
In 2005, Munroe went to an event at the Nevada County Fairgrounds and met a veterans service officer who changed his understanding of the mental struggles he and so many other former service members struggle to articulate.
“The woman who was in the position before David West did a PTSD screening for me and after, she said, ’We need to spend some time together.’”
Munroe said the PTSD program “completely changed everything.”
David West, of the Nevada County Veterans Affairs Office, served five years in the Marine Corps. West said the problems he left behind upon joining the service were waiting for him after a successful military career, and a year and a half out he was living in his car.
“The same problems that I had when I joined were there when I returned home,” West said. “I fell back into bad habits, but it wasn’t what I joined the Marine Corps to do.”
West said he picked himself up and eventually got a job in construction. He said many people without military experience reduce veterans to stereotypes.
“If I am in construction and I yelled because I’m upset, I’m not upset because people screamed at me, I’m upset because I’m an angry veteran,” West said.
West said many veterans feel disillusioned after their service because of how organized and moral-oriented the military is.
“I don’t ever feel like I truly fit back in,” West said. “I was taught a munch of morals and values, and I bought into them at 19 years old.”
West said leadership in the private sector is tied to fiscal compensation, or something other than “your best belief,” which is hard for many veterans.
Now, West said he works with over 8,000 veterans in Nevada County. West said he has been able to expand his outreach in the age of COVID-19 because it forced Veterans Affairs to update and optimize its technology.
“This has been a long hard year, but it’s been a great year, too,” West said. “It’s made me reevaluate. I probably wouldn’t have this technology without the pandemic.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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