Vietnam Vet Wants to Use Music to Help Other PTSD Sufferers

Marching in San Francisco to protest the Vietnam War in the 1960s gave Mike Mitchell a break from his bouts of depression brought on from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There was no help for us returning home," he recalled. "My mother didn't know what to do with me. The (doctor) put me on sedatives."

For Mitchell, music helped more than the medicine until he found a Tacoma group that helped him through rehabilitation and group counseling.

Now he's giving back to his community and other veterans through his passion for classic rock and blues.

Mitchell is the host of the Rockin' Rhythm and Blues festival Saturday (Aug. 18) at the Gig Harbor Sportsman's Club. This will be the second straight year he's hosted a concert in Gig Harbor to support of veterans with PTSD.

"Last year was our inaugural year in Gig Harbor," he said. "It was about a $20,000 endeavor, but it ended up paying for itself."

The Gig Harbor event was born from Tacoma's Old Town Blues Fest, which Mitchell hosted for 27 years. He used the blues festival to support local nonprofits, most recently for breast cancer research.

He moved the festival to Gig Harbor, and now sponsors Permission To Start Dreaming, a local nonprofit that supports veterans with PTSD or who have suffered other mental health issues after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I met this mom who lost her son to PTSD," Mitchell said. "And she is doing wonderful work now. So every event goes to her fund raiser."

That was Leslie Mayne, founding director of Permission To Start Dreaming, which hosts fund raisers and events throughout the year to support veterans.

"The longest journey many of our soldiers face is not the plane ride home from distant battlefields, but rather the struggle they face upon returning," the organization's website states.

"The statistics are staggering regarding the numbers of servicemen and women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), many of whom are unaware of or unable to access the resources and support they need."

Coping with PTSD

Mitchell was raised in Tacoma and drafted into the Vietnam War in 1967. He deployed in March 1968 and came back a changed man a year later.

Before being drafted, Mitchell worked and basically lived in a local music club. While he helped set up shows and events at the club, he fell deeply in love with music.

After returning from Vietnam, he went back to his usual hangout and found it had grown larger. He started helping run bigger and better shows, and almost made it to the Woodstock festvial in New York.

"I wanted to go to Woodstock but I couldn't make it," he said. "So I hitchhiked to San Francisco to protest the war. I ran into a lot of the Woodstock artists there."

To deal with PTSD, Mitchell started to self-medicate and focus on his job as a contractor. He also put together music shows.

In 1986, he founded the Tacoma Veterans Center on Pacific Avenue.

"That group helped a lot, and I went through a seven-year rehabilitation program," Mitchell said. "But music is what helped save my life." (His favorite album is Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?")

The first year Mitchell gave to the Permission To Start Dreaming Foundation he raised $10,000. After his first event in Gig Harbor he came up with another $5,000 for the foundation. He hopes to sell even more tickets and bring more people to this year's day-long celebration of music.

The event will include nine musical acts, including DoctorfunK and Jonell Mosser. Jeremy Allgaier, trumpeter for the U.S. Army National Guard, will kick off the event with the "Star Spangled Banner." Local restaurants will set up shop with food, and there will be a beer and wine garden.

Mitchell said his favorite part of putting on shows is hearing the great music and watching groups dance together.

"It's just nine hours of great music," he said. "And it makes a difference to those who need it."

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie

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