Patrick Thibeault's first book, My Journey as a Combat Medic: From Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom, chronicles a career of the most hardcore variety: 20 years of service and two combat tours as an airborne Army medic.
The book is a swift read with first-hand, succinct observations on the type of human duality people face in war, the realities of intense physical and mental training tied to soldiering and what it means to achieve victory in Afghanistan. He also opens up about the burning rage of post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly the kind "that makes you want to rip someone in half."
He warns the ignorant: Don't ever ask a vet if they've killed someone.
NUVO caught up with Thibeault via email.
NUVO: Are you familiar with congressional efforts to establish a cutoff date for Gulf War Illness claims? Any thoughts?
Thibeault : One thought: Agent Orange. The government denied the effects of the defoliant used in the Vietnam War until plenty of veterans died off. The same thing is happening with GWS and Congress. The time line is classic. The government denied Agent Orange for some 20 years and the effects of it. They are playing the same game with GWS veterans. I have read the specific diseases that a combat veteran has to have in order to "qualify" for GWS and most of them are very rare diseases. As far as a time line is concerned, that is just plain bullshit; there is no specific etiology of GWS of when the veteran exhibits symptoms. Typically when a veteran with GWS does exhibit symptoms, the medical providers at the VA are not trained to really handle this and they diagnose said conditions as something else. If they do it on purpose or not, I cannot say, but would it make sense for the same organization to diagnose you as having GWS who is also responsible to denying veteran service-connected claims. I might have a bit of paranoia in me when I say this, but the answer is "No."The bottom line about a cutoff date: Most veterans with GWS will have already died off, be too exhausted both mentally and physically and the VA hospital that determines if they have GWS will deny it anyway.
NUVO: What was the process of writing the book like for you?
Thibeault : This was my first book. Originally I wrote about everything — and I mean everything — from when I was born, remembering urinating on the doctor that assisted in my birth, to the last day of my military career. It was long and cumbersome. Then I remembered the title of the book: My Journey as a Combat Medic: From Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom.I had to cut out a lot of material that I might have found interesting but that had nothing to do with the story. The lady who edited my book (Candace Denning of IBJ Book Publishing) was very helpful in this. She was the one who decided to make each chapter unique and about a special subject such as parachuting, Gulf War, PTSD, etc. After we had the skeletal framework, everything started coming together. I would write when I was motivated to write. I took my time and I did many, many re-writes until I could read the story and feel that I had the gotten the exact point I wanted to get across.
NUVO: What were the challenges, the highlights?
Thibeault : Good question. The challenge for me was to write about PTSD. Originally I was not going to open up about my issues and keep them private, but it was sitting there underneath the surface waiting to explode as I wrote. I would be lying to myself and to the reader if I did not write about PTSD. It was the highlight for me also; I felt so much better after expressing how I feel.
NUVO: How much remains unsaid?
Thibeault : I pretty much said everything that I felt needed to be said in My Journey as a Combat Medic. The intention of the book was not to bash the military or society or war in general, but really to give the perspective from one combat medicÃ*s point of view.
NUVO: How are you doing health-wise these days?What regimen keeps in you at the optimum performance level?
Thibeault : Currently, I am not at my optimum level of performance.Mentally with PTSD it is a struggle every day. Every day. I am not a big fan of counseling as you have read in the book, so I just take my medications. There are some days when I want to say the heck with it all and go live in the mountains out west in survival mode and not have to interact with society.In order to obtain optimum performance there has to be a balance between energy and rest.I believe in the yin and yang in life.The mid-ground is optimal.
NUVO: What do you think of efforts to legalize marijuana to treat PTSD and GWI
Thibeault : I have mixed feelings about marijuana. If a veteran wants to smoke weed to help deal with PTSD and GWI, then more power to him or her. It's a joke that marijuana is illegal and tobacco is legal. To me both are equally harmful to the body and both can help the body.
I don't smoke either way. I can see how weed can help with anxiety and, in some cases, it is probably better than conventional treatments available. But, on the other hand, people use their disease as a crutch for sympathy. Not everyone, surely, and some just want to smoke weed regardless of the reason.
To me the underlying issue regarding PTSD is the veteranÃ*s attitude. Nothing is worse than a glass-half-empty attitude in dealing with PTSD regardless of what therapy, i.e. meds, weed or counseling. GWI is different, of course. It is a physical disease, which manifests itself physically.As medical provider in my own right (nurse practitioner) I personally would not prescribe marijuana if it was legal to prescribe because I am not a mental health care specialist.