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STORIES OF HONOR | Larry Germanson

Stories of Honor: Larry Germanson gives back

From the WATCH NOW: Stories of Honor 2021 series
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Stories of Honor-Germanson

Vietnam War veteran and psychologist Larry Germanson of rural West Salem has spent his career helping others and himself cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychologist Larry Germanson knows about shock. Helping himself and others learn to live with the effects of jolting mental trauma has become his life’s work.

Born in La Crosse, Germanson’s family spent a few years during his pre-teen years in Missouri and California. He described those years as a time of “culture shock.”

When he returned to La Crosse in 1962, Germanson attended Logan High School. When he was 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, undergoing basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. He was deployed to Vietnam in October 1966 as part of the 25th Infantry Division and was stationed in Pleiku in the northern part of the country near the Demilitarized Zone.

“It was another culture shock,” said Germanson.

The area near the border with North Vietnam experienced heavy military action. In 1966, 18 major operations were conducted between U.S. and South Vietnam forces against North Vietnamese forces and their allies. Engaged in the fighting, Germanson was recognized for his actions and received the Bronze Star with V for Valor as well as two Purple Hearts.

When he returned home, Germanson attended Viterbo College for his undergraduate work in psychology. He continued his studies in Dublin, Ireland, earning a master’s degree in psychology at University College Dublin in 1995.

Returning to La Crosse in 1996, he set up the Germanson Psychology Clinic, which served Wisconsin and Minnesota communities for over 10 years. He also volunteered with the Red Cross International, traveling to counsel people devastated by disasters.

Germanson says people hit by such natural or manmade tragedies experienced depression and anxiety. He provided survivors with counseling for grief support and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues.

In partnership with RCI, Germanson teamed with other volunteers to help those impacted by hurricanes, tornadoes and fires. He traveled to Puerto Rico September 1998 to assist those struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane George as well as to South Carolina in October 2002 for Hurricane Lily. He also helped victims in other parts of the country dealing with disasters as well as working alongside other relief workers who helped neighbors during the state’s sesquicentennial.

“Giving back to the community and helping build a better world was the least I could do,” said Germanson. “Wherever they needed me, I was willing to go. We helped survivors cope with life changing events.”

Volunteering on his own, Germanson was one of the psychologists responding to the Columbine High School shooting, Colorado’s worst school shooting. At one time, Germanson relocated to Littleton, Co., to be near family.

“While in Colorado, word got out I was available to help veterans struggling with PTSD, so they could receive help and their veteran disability benefits,” said Germanson. “My work with the veterans led me to start an organization called Vietnam Veterans Missing in American because so much of homelessness in that sector of society is due to PTSD.”

With a strong desire to heighten awareness of the issue and the need to assist the traumatized veterans of all wars, Germanson decided to run for U.S. Congress on a platform focused on helping veterans with PTSD, improving their benefits and educating them about their rights. He eventually dropped out of the race due to negative campaigning and the exorbitant cost of running a campaign for a seat in Washington, D.C.

In 2007, Germanson tried to retire to Arizona, but local organizations sought him to teach and speak about PTSD to such professionals as medical staff, fire fighters, police and first responders. This activity resulted in more veterans coming to him for assistance.

In 2011, he and two other La Crosse psychologists responded to the 9/11 disaster in New York City to assist with counseling at Ground Zero.

“They sent me all around the area to find traumatized witnesses, including grade schools, police, firefighters and families who lost loved ones,” said Germanson.

Back again in La Crosse, Germanson volunteered with Gundersen Health System in a program geared toward domestic abuse and other trauma survivors struggling with PTSD.

“At the same time, I worked with the Ho-Chunk Nation to improve their domestic abuse prevention program,” said Germanson. “As a result, the program had one of the lowest recidivism rates in Black River Falls.”

Both men and women were helped by the program currently run by the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Germanson understands the difficulties people struggling with PTSD face, because he’s dealt with the disorder himself.

“They go through the same thing I went through,” said Germanson. “Some psychiatrists think they can cure PTSD, but the trauma of death and loss will always stay with the victim. People think they can completely control the PTSD symptoms, but they are unable. Triggers exist through senses of the body and mind, like the sound of gun fire or the scent of diesel fuel. When I smell diesel fuel, I’m immediately mentally back in the Vietnam jungle in the midst of combat; it’ll always be there for me.”

With Germanson’s help, PTSD sufferers experience reduced thoughts and feelings of trauma which lessens the symptoms. The therapy leads clients to better cope in society.

Although retired from practice, Germanson continues to test veterans for PTSD without cost. Because of his work with veterans, Germanson received Wisconsin’s Vietnam Veteran of the Year Award June 1997 from the Vietnam Veterans of America Wisconsin State Council.

Veterans with PTSD related issues can reach out to Germanson for help by emailing rathgaremail@yahoo.com

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