ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Fighting in the war is half the battle for the men and women who protect and have served our country.
After they return home, many say dealing with flashbacks from war is just as challenging.
For Vietnam veteran Gus Allbritton, he says those memories will stay with him forever.
At 19 years old, Allbritton said his life changed in the blink of an eye.
"Well, I was drafted right out of high school," he said. "Graduated on a Friday night. Saturday I got my draft notice. Monday I was in Fort Benning."
Before he knew it, he was placed in the infantry, and on his way to Vietnam.
"I was scared to death. I was literally scared to death," he said.
While serving in Vietnam, Allbritton was wounded three times. Two of them were in the same day.
But just a year later, he was out. In less than 24 hours, he left the jungle to return to the streets of his hometown.
"It was a shock and very difficult to do," said Allbritton. "That switch is not one easily switched from one to the other."
Two years later, as a deputy sheriff in Florida, Allbritton noticed something was wrong as he sat in his patrol car.
"About 2 o'clock in the morning, a newspaper truck came by and backfired," he said.
Gus said he felt as if he was back in Vietnam. All he could see was the Viet Cong coming at him.
"I rolled out of my patrol car with my model 19 Smith and Wesson and fired six rounds right through the middle of town," said Allbritton.
"What happened? What was this?" he thought.
Bad dreams, nausea, and bad migraines led him to seek help at the VA hospital in Tampa, where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Allbritton said it's a mental illness that similarly affects those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan now.
The most recent data from the National Vital Statistics System in 2009 shows that the suicide rate among male Veteran VA users was 38.3 percent per 100,000, compared to 12.8 percent per 100,000 in females.
"Combat is combat," he said, "and war is war."
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs, there is strong evidence that among Veterans who experienced combat trauma, the highest relative suicide risk is observed in those who were wounded multiple times or hospitalized for a wound.
Allbritton said the VA has come a long way in their mental health approach since he returned from war.
"You learn from what happens and you move on and you make it better," said Public Affairs Supervisor Dr. Frank Jordan Jr. "That's what we are committed to doing here at the Veteran's Affairs."
The Carl Vinson VA now offers outpatient care, domiciliary intensive and inpatient care, and has a residential rehabilitation program.
"The VA has exploded in the number of programs and services available, the funds committed to the services, and a fundamental re-understanding of what veterans need," said Dr. Jordan.
He said the center has become more patient-centered and now involves family in the treatment process.
"Before you lose your family, before you lose your job, and everything you've got, just take that chance," said Allbritton. "Come in and see what the VA has got to offer."
Allbritton has been volunteering at the VA center for 24 years now.
Every day, he says he sees a veteran who reminds him of himself. But he has hope for their progress with the current quality of care at the VA center.
All VA centers offer PTSD treatment, even if there is no specific PTSD program.
Albany's community clinic offers mental health services for veterans in the area.
For a list of signs of PTSD along with helpful sites and resources, go to http://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp.
To learn which PTSD programs are available near you, visit http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/ptsd_flsh.asp.