Families help soldiers through post-traumatic stress
Sgt. Milton Caples made it home to his wife and daughter after a year as a security convoy driver in Iraq
, but thoughts of suicide bombers and mortar attacks haunted him, nearly costing him his former life.
Driving on the rural roads near his home, he would flashback to the streets of Balad and Tikrit, speed up and try to outrun other drivers.
"I would know I was doing crazy stuff. It would seem like I was driving but I wasn't there. I was looking at myself doing stuff in a video game or something," he said. "In some cases, I'm glad the police didn't see me because they would have taken my license away."
He spent his nights doing security patrols of the family home - repeatedly checking to see if doors and windows were locked, if anyone was prowling around outside.
His anger ate away his relationship with his wife and daughter, who struggled to reach the fun-loving man they once knew.
Three years into the Iraq
war and almost five years after the invasion of Afghanistan
, American families like the Capleses are increasingly becoming part of its collateral damage. Learning from the mistakes of Vietnam
, the military has long encouraged returning soldiers to seek counseling. Now its leaders are trying something different - reaching out to the soldiers' families.
Although treatment and medication have evolved since Vietnam
, the warrior mentality still prevents most returning soldiers from getting the help they need, said Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America.
"Real men don't eat quiche and they don't have problems like this - hooah," he said, giving the shout soldiers make.
Milton Caples began working with a psychiatrist at Pensacola Naval Hospital
after his wife demanded he get help. He started taking antidepressants and the couple began marriage counseling.
The Naval hospital placed advertisements in civilian newspapers this fall to make families aware of its counseling programs. Navy hospitals are also reaching families through a series of online videos about post-traumatic stress syndrome.
In the videos, a Navy psychiatrist interviews a Marine medic, his family, a Marine commander and others about the problems of returning from combat.
The medic tells of gunbattles, his helpless attempt to save a child run over by a Humvee and the surprise of opening a body bag and realizing the body inside is a friend.
A lieutenant colonel encourages Marines to enter counseling. By seeking treatment Marines can avoid problems including domestic violence and DUIs, the videos say.
The videos were designed not for service members, but their families.
"The goal was to bring in the family in hopes that if the individual wouldn't come in on their own, we would reach them through the family. We made thousands of copies and distributed them to all kinds of places," said retired Navy Capt. Jennifer Morse, the San Diego Naval Hospital
psychiatrist featured on the videos. The Navy began producing the videos in 2004 and is releasing a re-edited version of the project in the coming months.
"The intent is to get people help, not to fix them over the Internet. (To tell them that) they shouldn't be ashamed of their feelings after they have served in these situations," said Bill Hendrix the Navy's Pentagon-based coordinator of the Lifelines video project.
The videos have been so successful that the Air Force and the Army are also using them to encourage families to seek counseling for veterans of both Iraq
, Hendrix said.
Weidman, of the Washington-based Vietnam
veterans group, applauded the efforts to reach troops by reaching out to families.
"The military, under significant pressure, has made some significant efforts," he said.
Vietnam Veterans of America has long pushed the Department of Defense to develop such programs, he said.
But Capt. Jeffrey Weyeneth, a psychiatrist at Pensacola Naval Hospital
, estimates continued counseling programs still reach only 10 percent of troops returning from Iraq
"A lot of guys, they see it as a nick in their armor, 'If I want to do 20 (years) or more, I don't want to be seen as a nut case'. And confidentiality is difficult with the military because mental health can affect your ability to function in the military so confidentiality is not as absolute as it is in the civilian world," he said.
Returning soldiers who go without treatment often hide their stress from co-workers to avoid ruining their careers and instead take their problems out on their families, Weyeneth said.
"A lot of these guys come back from war but never get out of the combat, the enemy just changes. They direct their anger at other people," he said.
Many of the 1.28 million servicemen and women who have served in Iraq
since 2001 are getting at least some mental health treatment.
A Pentagon study released this year found that more than a third of U.S.
soldiers received psychological counseling soon after returning from Iraq
. The study, done by doctors at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, found that 35 percent of Iraq
veterans received mental health care during their first year home. In addition, 12 percent of the more than 222,000 returning Army soldiers and Marines in the study were diagnosed with a mental problem.
Milton Caples said his time at the Army's Camp Anaconda
near Balad, Iraq
, was life-altering.
"They got mortared 10 or 12 time a day and every time there was a mortar attack you'd have to get in the . . . bunkers. It was safer going out on the missions than it was living there. I was glad to go out because there were more people dying at Anaconda," he said.
His wife, Michelle, struggled to understand her husband when he returned home.
She changed her nursing shifts at an area hospital to avoid leaving him alone with their 14-year-old daughter because the father and daughter argued so often.
couldn't relax and that meant no one could relax," she said.
He credits counseling and medication with saving his marriage and helping him start to rebuild his life.
"If I hadn't gotten counseling and stuff I don't know where the hell I would have been," he said. "Things were a lot nicer before I left."
Report: Returning veterans find jobs hard to come by
Associated Press Newswires
CHICAGO (AP) - Veterans returning from tours of duty overseas face a bleak job market at home, according to a published report.
Employment prospects are especially dismal for young veterans and for those searching in Illinois
, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in Sunday's editions.
"I've filled out dozens of applications," said Blue Island
resident Angelina Summerfield, 28, who cannot find a job despite a resume that includes two tours in Iraq
as a Marine sergeant.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for vets between ages 20 and 24 was 16 percent in 2005, compared with 9 percent for non-veterans in the same age group, the Sun-Times reported. The overall unemployment rate last year was 5.1 percent.
Experts cite a variety of reasons for veterans' high unemployment.
Managers today are less likely to have personal connections to the military and don't seek soldiers out as job applicants, said Robert Bruno, a professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The conflicts in Iraq
also have not boosted the U.S.
Michael McCoy, 24, said he had to fight a perceived stigma from potential employers who were worried about psychological problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.
"You've been to war, and they think you're a dangerous guy," said McCoy, who was diagnosed with PTSD after returning to Chicago Heights
in April 2004. It took McCoy five months to find a part-time job as a package handler at United Parcel Service, at a pay rate of $8.50 an hour and without benefits.
is last in the country when it comes to getting jobs for veterans, according to the U.S. Labor Department -- a ranking that state employment officials dispute.
Federal labor officials say 34 percent of unemployed veterans who asked for help from the Illinois Department of Employment Security found jobs last year, but state officials say new data boosts Illinois
' ranking. Even using the state's statistics, Illinois
performed better than just seven other states, the Sun-Times reported.
"It makes me angry, and it's discouraging to thousands of veterans in Illinois
who have served their country," said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
The low ranking is deceiving because Illinois
' younger veterans are more likely than their counterparts in other states to enroll in college, state officials said.
is one of the few states to offer veterans four years of college benefits, on top of the money they get through the federal GI Bill. In the last five years, the number of Illinois
veterans using GI Bill benefits has risen more than 53 percent, compared to 20 percent nationally, the Sun-Times reported.
"A lot of our younger veterans went into the military so they could get benefits to go to school," said Lane Knox, who heads Illinois
' veterans employment representatives. "They don't want to work. But if someone's taking statistics, all they see is this person is not working."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi