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Hard times on the home front

Submitted on Wed, 08/01/2007 – 12:14.
Story by Elida Coseri
Brett Brandon, a 21-year-old Marine corpsman stationed in Iraq from September 2006 to April 2007, was told it would take about a month for the after-effects of war to fully set in. Now stationed at the U.S. Navy Base in Chicago, Brandon realizes his officers were right.

“Within the past month I have noticed how easily angered I am, compared to how I used to be,” he said. Triggers for his anger include most loud noises, disrespectful people and certain musical lyrics. Brandon also wakes up abruptly in the middle of the night at times, and tends to be jittery in the mornings.

As hard as being thrown into the middle of combat may be, for a growing number of veterans, returning home is often even more difficult. Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is affecting a growing number of soldiers returning from Iraq. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened,” such as war. The institute also states that symptoms usually occur up to three months after an incident, and can last up to six months, although in many cases it can become chronic.

Elena Leon, a counselor for almost 10 years, has dealt with PTSD patients in the past. She said PTSD is usually not a curable condition, but there are ways to reduce the anxiety. “I see PTSD as major depression, and can be a barrier in someone’s everyday life,” Leon said. “Coping skills apply to everyone, and each individual needs one-on-one attention.”

Brandon sought the help of a counselor after going an entire weekend angry at his girlfriend, Jessica Jurado, 20, shortly after his return home. “I realized I need someone to talk to, and I can’t talk to Jessica. There’s a good chance I may have to go back, and I don’t want her knowing what really happened out there. It would worry her way too much if I ever ended up back there,” Brandon said.

Not only does PTSD affect an individual’s physical and mental well-being, but this condition takes a toll on family and friends immensely. For Brandon, his one-and-a-half-year relationship with Jurado was put to the ultimate test. Every day was a struggle on both ends, yet the two couldn’t be happier with each other now.

“It’s like that saying, ‘You don’t really know what you have until it’s gone,’” Jurado said, “Having him away for so long made me realize how important he really is to me, and how much I love him. If I had to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat. Though it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life, it was all worth it in the end.”

Although an average of 7.7 million Americans developed some level of PTSD, as recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General, after returning from war, others come out unscathed.

Michael McIntyre, 25, was deployed in 2005, where he worked as an electrician for the Air Force for six months. Knowing what he was in for when he originally enlisted, he voluntarily went to Iraq in place of a friend, who was scared. Though McIntyre traveled through hot zones, he was never involved in combat.

“Had I been involved in combat, and stayed longer than six months, it probably would have affected me more,” he said.

Upon his return, McIntyre was really excited to see his friends and family, and to be back. He never experienced PTSD, but he did take some positive changes home. He is now more responsible, and much more independent.

William O’Callaghan, 22, talks about a long-time friend who, unlike McIntyre, is living with PTSD. O’Callaghan has been best friends with Richie Sullivan, 25, since the two were kids. Sullivan has been deployed twice, once in Afghanistan and once in Iraq, and is currently in Iraq working with Blackwater, a security agency.

His deployments have been long enough to have an impact. According to O’Callaghan, Sullivan was always “crazy” — hilarious, outgoing, and the life of the party when with friends, but was much quieter after his return from his first deployment, and much more easily angered.

“I remember soon after he first got back we were all at a diner and he snapped on me over nothing. He was so mad he was ready to beat my ass. It was really weird because we’re such good friends. He’s also gotten a lot colder since Iraq, like he has no remorse. He can talk about killing people and doesn’t seem to have a problem actually doing it,” O’Callaghan said.

Despite Sullivan’s common symptoms of PTSD, such as anger and feeling emotionally numb, both he and Brandon appear to have brought home many positive qualities. They are both more confident in themselves, more independent, respectful, responsible, and goal driven.

“There are some changes I hope are temporary, like my anger, but others I definitely hope will stick, like my confidence,” Brandon said.

O’Callaghan agrees that despite the changes in Sullivan, it has strengthened their bond and truly reaffirmed their brotherhood. “He’s one of the greatest people I know, and definitely one of my personal heroes. I would do anything for that guy,” O’Callaghan said.

Global Mind & Body Public Social Issues
home iraq post-traumatic stress disorder pstd soldiers

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