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Saving One Life and Many Others

A Viet Nam Veteran Leads the Charge in Helping Those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

By Michael Heath /

Johnnie H. Williams Jr author of Suicide Stop it Now and Who Am I

Johnnie H. Williams Jr has made his life’s mission to spread the word about PTSD and enable veterans to understand that they are better than this affliction. As commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 23 stationed at James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, he visits veterans daily. He is also an author who has written three books on the subject.

To and From War

Williams enlisted in the US Army in 1967 when the Viet Nam War was raging with troop involvement reaching half a million soldiers. Before shipping out to join the conflict, Williams was sent to Germany for eight months for additional training. In battle he earned a reputation as a fearless machine gunner. Despite seeing lots of combat, he managed to survive the war, returning home a different man. Anger harbored inside him. Williams had trouble adjusting to what most of us consider a normal life. He challenged people for no reason. He told people to stay away, that his home was booby-trapped. He threated police. He knows now what caused such wild behavior. Williams had a death wish. He wanted someone to kill him.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health condition caused by a terrifying event such as rape, an auto accident, childhood traumas, and combat. Common symptoms are flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts. For centuries both military and medical authorities recognized the damaging effects war can have on one’s psyche. Although severe cases were labeled as shell shock, battle fatigue or war neurosis, little was done overall in the way of treatment. Those suffering post-battle mental conditions were often viewed as weak or feeble. Many attempted to hide their disorder, leaning on alcohol or drugs to find some relief. Too many afflicted soldiers simply slipped through the cracks. It was not until the early 1980s that the medical community zeroed in on this condition and outlined better treatment.

Up Close and Personal

The hardest thing to find at the Bronx VA Medical Center is someone who does not know Johnnie H. Williams. Although I write that in jest, the truth is that just about everyone at the hospital knows him. He advocates for the veterans, making sure they get the attention they need and is always looking for ways to improve the services provided. In the hospital Williams learned more and more about PSTD as he saw the combat veterans and saw himself in what they were experiencing. He became aware of the high incidence of suicide in the military and knew that many PSTD sufferers were taking their own lives. It was then that he decided to write a book titled Suicide: Stop It Now! He writes about the many services available to veterans and how they must seek help before it is too late. The Veterans Administration offers counseling, therapy, and medical services to those suffering the casualties of war. Williams knows how close he came to being another statistic. He found God and receives his own continued treatment and support.

Suicide Stop it Now! book

PSTD Is Not Just a Combat Thing

When people think of veterans and PSTD the first thing that comes to mind is a soldier who experienced a lot of combat. That may be true in many cases, but Williams points out in his book that non-combatants also suffer from this disorder. War is a messy affair where things often go very wrong. There are many people behind the lines that are very involved. When people die or become injured others who may have made decisions can feel the guilt. Some experience PSTD after losing a friend in battle. Williams has successfully lobbied the Veterans Administration to assure that non-combatants are included in receiving PTSD treatment.

Always Advocating

As a follow up to his first book, Williams wrote Who Am I, stressing self-empowerment and pointing out that veterans are better than their PTSD; they must stand up and get the help they need. He has just completed his third book, Coming Out of Darkness, which targets veteran suicide and the role ex-military have in helping fellow veterans.

Who Am I by Johnnie H. William Jr.

Williams is known not only in the halls of the VA hospital but enjoys a New York City recognition that reaches all the way to Mayor Eric Adams. The mayor has been so impressed with William’s efforts on behalf of veterans that he allowed his books to be advertised at busy intersections and bus stops. But don’t ever think that William’s authorship goes to his head. He says, “I don’t write the books; God writes the books.”

Most veterans would say, “God bless America and God bless Johnnie H. Williams.”

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