"He Came Back Different"

News articles in the Associated Press, Reuters, and Associated Free Press report the findings of a New York Times study that uncovered a serious crisis for active duty and veteran soldiers of Iraqi Freedom. This crisis is unrecognized and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The study found 121 soldiers that returned from theater were involved in killings, and suspects many more than the available documented cases found for this study. As disconcerting as this is, there is more to this story than these articles present.

My position at US Army Reserve Family Programs was 'unclassified', meaning I had no direct access to military information of any kind. My work involved working with families of deployed Army Reserve Soldiers to offer support, information and referrals. I had direct contact with support programs available to families and Soldiers, as well as many others working in support positions such as mine. What I offer here is my opinion based on my experience and continued support of our Soldiers and their families.

Interviews with relatives of the [121] veterans brought a common refrain of "He came back (from war) different," the Times said, with references to substance abuse and mental instability such as paranoia. ~~Reuters
There is nothing in 'civilian' life that can compare to what a Soldier's life becomes in theater. No amount of violence in TV, movies, video games, comic books or even inner city gangs can prepare a person for the stress of a combat situation. Though Soldiers are extensively trained, just like a new mother experiencing labor, reality is far worse than what is prepared for. We were given a snapshot of what it is like with the events of September 11, 2001. Painful to recall, if you can remember what you were feeling on that date in our history, that is what Soldiers experience their entire time in theater.

A US Soldier of any rank, duty or role in Iraq is a target, 24/7. Their rifle is with them always; they eat, sleep and shower with the M-16 that they have endearingly named "Buddy", "Mom" or "Duke". At any moment, they can be shot at anywhere at any time. Extreme vigilance becomes a way of being. Transportation Unit drivers have become so good at avoiding IEDs that they forget how to drive a straight line. Some drivers report being hit by IEDs anywhere from 6 to 18 times without injury. Soldiers shoot at another living being for the first time in their lives. Anything at any time while in theater can be life threatening. This is only what I know of what it is like for Soldiers in combat support roles. I cannot comprehend this, let alone imagine what it is like for combat personnel.

Yet, a common thread among the demobilized Soldiers I spoke with was "I want to go back. I know I can do more. I want to do more." One Soldier, a driver that was hit and wounded by an IED, refused medical treatment until he returned from his mission. With a head injury and several pieces of shrapnel in his torso and arm, he would not allow anyone in his unit to take his place as driver and be at risk because he was not there to do his job. What incredible commitment, loyalty and courage!

I feel that there are two important points not considered in the NY Times study. First, "Combat Stress" or "Combat Fatigue" or just readjustment to life as a civilian is common and to be expected for Soldiers returning home, either for leave or demobilization. PTSD can only be diagnosed if symptoms persist or worsen over time. The second point is based on only what I heard: If a Soldier has difficulty, they will not seek treatment. They are concerned that any psych history in their file would prevent promotion or acceptance in Officer School. Though this came from others working in a support capacity and Soldiers, I have no way of confirming or denying this concern; but I heard it too many times to write it off.

This only scratches the surface of the issues faced by our Soldiers. I hope to be able to offer legitimate resources and updates as time goes on. If you have any relevant information to share, please take the time to comment.

Thank you for reading.

Read the NY Times article: Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles


  1. Years ago if a soldier sought any type of counseling it automatically went onto the soldiers' record and it did affect their status. Today, however, the military is encouraging our veterans to talk to someone when they come back from overseas. Many services are now confidential and does not get reported back to anyone. Military OneSource and local Vet Centers are good resources and are kept very confidential.
    Another subject I would like to mention is that many of our soldiers who return do not notice a change in themselves. They can be irritable, angry, start drinking heavily, frustrated, stare into space just to name a few issues. The soldiers' loved ones is the one who notice these changes first but are sometimes afraid to mention anything to the soldier in fear they may get yelled at or make the soldier angry. To all our soldiers: You may not notice a change in your behavior but if your loved one tell you what they have noticed, please listen to them. They love you and want the best for you. Talking with each other or even seeking counseling will help strengthen your relationship. Going to counseling does not mean you are crazy or losing it. It is just someone you can confide in and let your feelings and emotions surface instead of bottling up inside then exploding or hurting someone you care deeply for.

  2. Spouses may also call Military One Source and The Vet Center if they are concerned about their Soldier's changes. It is as difficult for you to go through your Soldier's changes as it is for him or her!

    Anger and frustration are also signs of depression and PTSD, and it takes a lot of energy to struggle to keep it all bottled up. Both are easily "fixed" with help and very difficult to overcome on your own. Like Army Spouse said, please reconsider!

    To both of you, Soldier and Spouse, thank you for your great sacrifice to our country!