Merdick Mitchell, or “Mitch” as he’s called, is one of our early morning YMCA members. He works out diligently (which he says helps when you’re a “foodie”), then stops for a lively chat (and sometimes a donut) with his group of friends in the lobby. Mitch is married, has children and grandchildren, and retired from the US Post Office. But before he had his job and his family, he was drafted into the Army for the Vietnam War, something that affects him even today.
Mitch was a young man working at Lords to be a machinist when his number came up, changing the trajectory of his life. After training, he went to Vietnam, where he ultimately suffered injuries from an explosion during the Tet Offensive and came back to the states to be treated at Valley Forge General. At the time, he downplayed his medical issues: “if you didn’t have issues, you got to go on the plane to go home,” he says. “If you said you did, that delayed getting back home.” His young ego also had something to do with de-emphasizing his injuries. He said he could walk, even though he did so with great difficulty. The struggle getting in the taxi to leave, as well as navigating the steps up to the plane still stick in his memory, as does having to resort to coming down those steps backwards after he landed.
While Mitch to this day has issues with his back and legs due to shrapnel (he still has shrapnel in his legs and suffers from neuropathy), those aren’t the only effects from his time at war. He feels some effects from PTSD, as do many returning veterans, and he also has health issues related to Agent Orange exposure. But with all that, Mitch says he doesn’t have it bad compared to others, and he still grieves for two childhood friends whose lives were lost in the war.
Mitch says his greatest resource for veterans’ services was speaking to other veterans, something he’s more than happy to do now to help other vets. “Interacting with other veterans helps to know what path to take,” he says. The American Legion also has advisers available for those with questions. He suggests to veterans going to the VA for services that they take time beforehand to write down what their symptoms are, and “strongly emphasize your issues” (don’t play them off) when meeting with the VA, to ensure that they get the best care. Veterans who think they have been exposed to Agent Orange need to make sure they get on the registry – they will receive a newsletter to help educate them to its effects and any new progress, as well as become eligible for any related services, treatment, or compensation.
When asked if coming to the Y helped with his issues, he said absolutely! Working out has a calming effect with him: “it helps to fill the void and block out negative issues.” As for his morning group, he enjoys their discussions on politics, sports, health care, and a variety of other topics. They don’t always agree, and that’s okay; they will poke fun, but there are no hard feelings. At the end of the day, they agree to disagree. According to Mitch, that’s the best kind of therapy for him.