It's not that Clarence Carnahan doesn't know what to do with his golden years. Carnahan plays tennis twice a week. He likes to travel and play golf. But the 83-year-old doctor still makes the trip into the Veteran's Affairs (VA) office in Bend once a week to meet with ex-soldiers, some whose service dates back to World War II, to help them deal with the lingering effects of combat.
A veteran himself, Carnahan was drafted into the service during the Second World War, but gives little thought to his own service, which he describes as light duty. The men he has treated over the years as a VA psychiatrist are the heroes, Carnahan says.
A former volunteer with the nonprofit physician group, Volunteers in Medicine and Hospice, Carnahan says he's let go of most of his professional duties at this point, but he's not quite ready to stop counseling veterans. It's something that he's been doing since the early 1970s. After retiring from the VA in Roseburg, Carnahan was tapped to start the Bend clinic, which he did in the late '90s, meeting with veterans at the employment office until a permanent facility was available. Since then, psychiatrists have come and gone (Carnahan has worked with three different managers so far), but Carnahan remains, bumping up to full time when necessary to ensure that patients have a doctor to see even when the clinic is short staffed.
"It's a great retirement job. I get to see the people I want to see and I enjoy hanging around with them. And when I've had enough, I can say, 'Well, I won't be here for a week,'" Carnahan said during a recent conversation with the Source.
While Carnahan's approach to his work may sound breezy, the issues that his patients bring into his office are all too serious and all too common for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who have served in past conflicts. Carnahan said it's not unusual for ex-solders to suppress their demons for years, only to have them appear later due to some external factor. It can be triggered by a death, a divorce or something as simple as retirement.
"There were two people that I saw today who worked hard until they melted down. I liken it to a person who's running a boat full speed, skimming across the surface and doing great. But once you lose power, you get swamped and that's what a lot of them do," Carnahan said.
Occupation: Psychiatrist at the Bend VA office
Personal Hero: "My grandfather"