Princeton Times


November 18, 2012

Vietnam veteran helps returning soldiers get back in "civilian mindset"

PRINCETON — One local veteran has found a unique way to give back to others that have served their country.

Ernest Barringer said his career as a readjustment counseling therapist began when he came back from a tour in Vietnam. Like many returning, he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

“You have to remember that in 1970, PTSD didn’t exist,” Barringer said by phone Wednesday. “It was always around but we didn’t have a formal name for it.”

When he came back, Barringer’s symptoms ranged  from nightmares and intrusive thoughts to disassociation with those around him. After first helping himself, Barringer joined the Vet’s Center program when it started in 1979.

Barringer said when the program first started, it was not a permanent program. Instead Congress had to renew the program every year. Finally, they made it permanent and Barringer couldn’t be happier to give back.

A lot of times when soldiers return, Barringer said, they’re still functioning on a survival mode. Barringer’s goal is to get them to function in a “civilian mindset.”

Survival mindsets allow the returning soldier to disassociate from those around him. And that’s really hard on the returning vet, their family and almost everything else in their lives.

 “I’m giving back to those that made a sacrifice for their country,” Barringer said. “This [Vet Center] program is good because it gives people a chance to get treatment away from a VA hospital. They don’t have the stigma of going there to get treatment.”

Having worked with the Vets Center program since it was created, Barringer was familiar with how the program got started. He said that when it began, there were only 80 facilities nationwide. Now, that number is around 300 including seven in West Virginia.

Those facilities are particularly important to Barringer because of his son’s experience when he returned from Iraq. At the time, Barringer had retired from his work as a counselor.

That changed when his son came back with PTSD.

“I decided I could do more returning to the vet center program and helping the new influx of Iraq vets,” Barringer was quoted in the news release.

Helping veterans seems to be the family business, so to speak. Barringer’s wife, Melody, is the team leader at the Vet Center in Beckley. Combined together, the two have over 52 years of experience helping veterans.

Even on the phone, Barringer wanted to let veterans know what to do when they came back from war.

“They need to get help as soon as they can,” Barringer said. “The longer you wait the more you’re going to build up defensive walls to keep people out.”

— Contact Matt Christian at

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