Breaking News
More () »

Northeast Ohio veteran takes unique steps to get PTSD under control

Joe Sepesy says dancing got his post-traumatic stress disorder under control.

KENT, Ohio — Joe Sepesy’s first day in Vietnam started with a rocket attack.

“I do not remember to this day crawling to the bunker, but I knew I did because my knees and palms were bloodied and scraped, and we are crawling on gravel. So that was our welcome to Vietnam” Joe recalls.

SUBSCRIBE: Get the day's top headlines sent to your inbox each weekday morning with the free 3News to GO! newsletter

Joe served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot during the war. Three weeks after arriving in Vietnam, his helicopter was shot down. He wears leg braces that are a constant reminder.

“That compressed the vertebrae L3, L4, L5 area that resulted in four back operations, titanium implants, two neck operations, titanium implants and more stuff, but I can still dance,” Joe says.

And when he dances, he glides across the floor.

The pictures hanging on the walls in his office are a tribute to his military service. The pictures on the walls in his home honor the hobby that Joe says saved his life.

For 33 years, he fought an enemy he did not see.

“I was at my lowest point and depression was the big thing then, and the demon dreams, I would wake up screaming and flailing away,” Joe remembers.

Loud noises are still a trigger.

“That will be with me until the day I die,” Joe tells us.

And there are other issues he still battles.

“Anger, survivor's guilt, hypersensitivity to injustice, emotional numbing, demon dreams, depression. But I'm happy to say I am now in control of my PTSD. I still have problems, but it's not affecting my life like it had for 33 years that I didn't even know I had PTSD,” Joe explains,

Joe began intensive group therapy at the VA, until one day he was issued a challenge.

“Everybody had to choose three things that will improve the quality of your life, I came up with 'I'm gonna get out my Gibson guitar and see what I can do, I'm gonna write my memoir and I'm gonna start ballroom dancing,'” Joe said.

Unfortunately, Joe’s hands were too damaged to play the guitar, but writing and dancing were within reach.

‘Dancing with the Stars’ was popular back then and Joe saw an episode that included amputee veteran, Sgt. Noah Galloway. It piqued his interest.

His father always told him to learn how to dance, so Joe decided to give it a try.  

“I booked a private lesson three days later and I was hooked 15 minutes into it, and I've been dancing ever since December 1st, 2009. I’m still taking lessons from the same teacher. Then I started writing. I wrote five books about ballroom dancing. I wrote two historical novels and my Vietnam memoir. For me, ballroom dancing was transformative,” Joe said.

He's hoping his two-volume memoir is considered for a movie.

In 2017, Joe met his wife, Linda, on the dance floor. They’ve been stepping out ever since.  During COVID, they turned the living room into a dance studio and kept practicing.

They still do.

Recently, Joe shared his experience at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, it included a power point presentation and a dancing presentation with Linda.  

His balance isn’t what it used to be so his tango days are behind him, but Joe can still swing, east or west coast.

Joe's advice to others battling post-traumatic stress disorder? “Find something that grabs you like dancing grabbed me. Find the hook that’s going to make a difference in your life."

More from 3News:


Before You Leave, Check This Out