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A Little Story of My Most Admired People (chief among them, my husband, Dr. Bear)

By "Ms. B"
(former news reporter for the San Diego Union and Atlanta Constitution)

Back in 1979, Public Law 96-22 established the first Vet Centers, after some ten years of effort by combat vets and others who realized the veterans were facing specific kinds of readjustment problems.

In the early days, most Vet Center staffers were veterans themselves, many of them Vietnam combat veterans. One of those first Vet Center directors was "Dr. Bear," a disabled Vietnam combat veteran. He ran the Vet Center in San Diego, CA.

San Diego Vet Center circa 1985

(aka Camelot)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs eventually opened Vet Centers nationwide. These centers helped develop many of the debriefing techniques used nowadays with traumatized populations from all walks of life.

Veterans in Southern California were responsible for many of those early lobbying and subsequent Vet Center treatment programs. Our family is proud to have been associated with these determined, compassionate veterans who fought hard and long for needed programs and treatment methodologies.

Their story has never been fully told, but we will always remember and be grateful to advocates like Randy Way, Robert Van Keuren, Jack Lyon and Rev. Bill Mahedy (whose inspiring book Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets dealt with issues deeply affecting many veterans.) And we have to include clinicians such as Shad Meshad, Rose Sandeki, Frank Walker, and the late (great) Jack McCloskey, who helped shape and implement early Vet Center treatment strategies.

Especially instrumental was Dr. Bear's friend and mentor, therapist Tom Williams (hopefully out there tooling around on his Harley somewhere.) A former Captain of Infantry in the USMC, he edited a ground-breaking book back in 1980 entitled Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders of the Vietnam Veteran. Published by the Disabled American Veterans, it helped introduce the "syndrome" of PTSD to the wider community.

It greatly influenced Dr. Bear's decision to devote his life to this work.

"Dr. Bear" circa mid-'80s (back then he was Dr. Bob aka the Vet Center Team Leader)


Other early influences included John P. Wilson, Ph.D. (author of another early work published by the DAV entitled Forgotten Warrior Project) and Charles Figley, Ph.D. (who wrote early on about impacts suffered by the families of Vietnam veterans and later wrote an important book about counselors entitled Compassion Fatique: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized .)

We also will never forget Dr. Bear's dedicated staff and associates during those years. Joan Craigwell, Dave Hill, Rick Thomas, the late Robert Gurney, John Hall, the late Rob Shepard, Don Williams, Red Redwine, and so many others. And the friends who walked through the Vet Center's front door and right into our hearts -- among them: Johnny Burns, Dan Emer, Dr. John Ditzler, Barbara Small R.N., Bob Bjielke, Dr. Nolan Berman, Chris Ownby, Steve Mason, Bill Fisher, and Tony DiGesu.

Vets were also largely responsible for taking debriefing and treatment strategies into the larger community where they were adapted for use in conjunction with populations impacted by violent crime, abuse, manmade and natural disasters, and those in law enforcement and emergency response.

"Dr. Bear" participated in training counselors in many of these fields and he was a founding board member of the International Association of Trauma Counselors (now called the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists.) Many of the best trained trauma specialists in the world are members of this dynamic organization.

In 1992, "Dr. Bear" became clinical coordinator of the Veteran Administration's National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Menlo Park, CA, where he worked until his retirement. A key associate there was psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Dondershine, mentor, friend, and expert when it came to picking just the right restaurant for lunch. (Harvey, phone home. Ours, that is.)

We owe a lot to our Vietnam veterans, not just here but overseas. In Australia, for example, the veteran community benefitted from the tireless efforts of Australian Vietnam combat-medic veteran and our best mate Glen Edwards (with the support of his wife Faye and wonderful boys--now men!--Damien and Jason.)

These and other courageous
veterans have provided insights
into help and healing that could
only have come from their own
war experiences and their own
willingness to "turn the
experience to good"
(as is often said)
and reach out to others
in psychological, spiritual,
and emotional pain.

"There remains no resolution of this war
beyond each man's obligation
to his world and his conscience
to record the True inner-history
of his Vietnam experience."

Excerpt from "A History Lesson"
by Steve Mason. Published in 1986
as part of his powerful book
Johnny's Song: Poetry of a Vietnam Veteran

We would also like to thank our friends in the Vietnamese community (especially Vu Thanh Thuy and Duong Phuc) who did so much over those early years to reach out and facilitate healing in the veteran community as well as their own.

Much time has passed, but the healing work goes on. And now, a new generation of healers is taking the helm. We "old-timers" want to do all we can to support them with love, guidance, and oh yes! Even Teddy Bears!

God bless you all. And thank you. You have enriched our lives more than you know.

Semper Fi

Our Family