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VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

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Learning to Heal from Silent Combat Wounds

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Photo of Cidkyee Williams
, February 20, 2011

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Gulf War, a US-led military operation that repelled the invading Iraqi army from Kuwait in 1991.

Every year around this time, Cidkyee Williams (first name pronounced “Sid-Kay”) relives his experiences as a veteran of the first Gulf War. “The last couple of weeks, in my mind and thoughts, I could feel a tension coming on me. This happens every year. I remember that around this time of the year, I was with these friends, having these experiences,” Williams said. “My body reminds me that I need to tell my supervisor that I need to start going back to the meetings at the PTSD clinic.”

Williams, a nineteen-year-old Air Force medical technician at the time of the first Gulf War, was part of the team that staged and manned the contingency hospitals in England and Germany.  These combat support hospitals were established to deal with the anticipated casualties of the operation. “Once the fighting began, we received casualties. The wounded were flown from the theater of combat to one of the contingency hospitals where we stabilized them, then sent them back to their units, or sent them back home to recover, or sent them back home in a box.”

It was a mission that William volunteered for. “I felt strongly that they should be sending experienced techs instead of people fresh out of school.  I would make the same choice today. That’s why I was in the military; I was there to serve.”

While Williams dealt with casualties and death that stemmed directly from his state-side active duty service the first Gulf War, it was a disastrous training exercise outside the theater of operations that left the deepest, darkest impression on his mind. “Two Blackhawks crashed into each other while above a company of soldiers.  It was a mess.  We were being overwhelmed by the sheer force and shock of receiving soldiers with such deep trauma,” said Williams. “In war, that’s sort of stuff we had to deal with.  And to a degree, you can’t anticipate it, no matter what you do to prepare. None of us were ready.”

William begins tapping his finger on the desk as he continues describing the horrific scene of mass casualties, severed limbs and absolute chaos. 

“I’m tapping. That’s because there was a clicking sound, this clack-clack-clack, because someone in that room had taps on their boots as we were receiving and staging casualties. What I discovered was that typing on the computer, that tapping sound could trigger a flashback and I was back in that moment.  It became enlivened and it took a while before I could identify what was happening.”

Williams left the Air Force after his first tour, struggling with the transition to civilian life even attempting multiple suicides to escape his pain.  Despite these difficulties both in his personal and professional life, he obtained multiple graduate degrees in education but most importantly, he realized he needed help.  He reached out to the Veterans Health Administration in 2006 and eventually received diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. After receiving both outpatient and inpatient treatment at West LA campus, Williams started to heal from his silent combat wounds.  He began working for the office of the Associate Chief of Staff for Education at the West LA campus where he received inpatient and outpatient treatment for PTSD.  He now ensures that prospective medical residents have the necessary credentials to care for our Veterans. “We make sure that medical residents and students helping veterans are qualified. I’m excited about that because I’m serving veterans and I’m serving people who help veterans.”

He considers himself very fortunate to work in an environment that facilitates his recovery from PTSD, an ongoing process. His office is just minutes away from the PTSD clinic, where Williams still attends meetings as needed.  “Thanks to my supervisors, coworkers and medical support team, I was still an inpatient when I began this job. From the beginning, I had to go to different meetings throughout the day just to make the transition. Everyone was so very supportive, especially the Vietnam vets. The ability to weave my recovery into my job has made all the difference for me.”

Williams is grateful to work at GLA, an environment that serves veterans because it understands what veterans go through.

“I’m very blessed,” said Williams.  

For more information about PTSD treatment and programs visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/ 
You can also watch videos about PTSD at http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/videos/list-videos.asp

Do you know a Veteran in need from PTSD, please contact the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare outreach coordinator Charles Green at 424.645.9865 or charles.green5@va.gov for assistance.