by J. M. Turner
First and foremost, I offer my greatest condolences to the family members of those who were a part of the tragedy at Fort Hood this past week, including Ivan Lopez. As a two-time veteran of the Iraq War in 2005 and 2006, as an infantryman with the marines, as being a purple heart recipient for a minor shrapnel wound and having been diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and two traumatic brain injuries, I must depict my own unhealthy emotions that have risen from the response of this past week’s shooting by the officials who have publicly made claims that PTSD is not an issue.
In 2007, as an alcoholic who underwent two rehab treatments before the age of 22 because the only way I could deal with my deployments was by staying drunk, I was discharged from Camp Lejeune and into the civilian population who had an even lesser understanding of war, the effects of war or the impact of PTSD. We, as veterans of all generations, are trained to go to war and undergo extreme conditions that have a lasting effect on the psyche, and yet it is only now that the VA is beginning to publically recognize that there are severe issues with returned soldiers. I find it interesting that the officials and supporters of war, who have full understanding of this “minor” detail, still have not employed proper tactics for re-integrating back into a noncombatant mentality.
Iraq has been occupied for over 11 years now. Over two million troops have flown in and out of theatre, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and 22 veterans are killing themselves each day. Many of us have fallen victim to the lack of care provided for veterans, and it has been an ongoing struggle to find reasons as to why we are still being neglected and or being found “unqualified” for having post traumatic stress. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to a small veteran population in Vermont who believed in alternative methods to what was, and continues to be, provided in attempt to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. But the reality is many of us will not find a healthy outlet. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are spent on testing new and improved methods that send energy waves into the brain to alleviate depression rather than just offering a space for veterans to feel safe and a sense of worth.
For the past seven years I have traveled the country working with veterans by utilizing creative writing and artistic expression to make sense of the triggers, dreams, behaviors and methodology that we have adapted since returning home. I have worked with hundreds of veterans, heard many sides to many stories and seen the impact war has had on those who served, as well as their family members, spanned over several generations and times of conflict. I can and will always say that regardless of whether or not we saw death, achieved the objectives we set out to or whether we drove trucks and served for only 4 months overseas, PTSD is real and it has the potential and ability to rub off on those around us and leave anyone who was exposed to war and trauma in a state of confusion.My hopes are that those who have served in times of peace and times of war, will be willing to recognize that there might be underlying issues that have contributed to their behaviors since either returning home or leaving the military, and that those who have sent us off to war, regardless if we volunteered or were drafted, will be willing to let themselves be humbled and offer a solution to this epidemic that has infected our soldiers, their families, the “enemy” and the lands in which we live upon. It is not easy to admit that we might have a “disability,” and by doing so we make ourselves vulnerable to judgment and fear. However, if we do not stand together and work to make these issues more known to our communities and governments, then we will continue to be confronted with the unhealthy effects of war.