Editor’s Note: The two local veterans who shared their stories for this article asked to not be identified due to the sensitive nature of their stories and the possible adverse impact to their day-to-day lives.
Many throughout the world deal with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder every day.
For two in the community, they simply want to others to stop viewing those who live with PTSD as different from everyone else.
“We’re not whacked-out people,” John said. “We’re not always the ones who are drunks or alcoholics or doing drugs, I don’t do any of that.”
John continued his family’s long line of military service when he joined the United States Army at the age of 17. His uncles served in World War II and his brother in Vietnam. He said he saw the Army as a new adventure.
John traveled throughout his first three years. After re-upping for another tour, the Army stationed him in Kansas with his new wife. About a month after the birth of his newborn daughter, he deployed to the Gulf War.
John said it took 23 years for him to be diagnosed with PTSD. He went from living in a big house with his family full of beautiful children and a beautiful wife to being homeless in one day.
He said many tell him they want to understand what he goes through every day. No, they don’t, he said. Civilians are taught to not do all the things soldiers have to do in war. War asks normal people to do unnatural things.
“People love their veterans, they love their soldiers, but they don’t want to understand or know about what you did to become what they are,” he said.
Teresa joined the U.S. Army National Guard in 1979. She said she joined to receive
scholarship money for school. They didn’t receive active duty training. She never thought she would be sent overseas. The National Guard received training to assist the governor, she said. They were not equipped to go overseas.
On Nov. 21, 1991, Teresa learned the military activated her unit.
“I can literally remember just this drumming in my head,” she said. “I can still feel it like it was yesterday. There’s just this drumming sound that went through my head like, ‘What? What are you talking about? What do you mean we’re on alert?’”
She remembers working on a speech when she received the call. She got up and threw the speech into the trash. She knew she would not finish the semester.
She left her 3-year-old daughter with her husband and deployed to the Middle East.
John said during his time in the Middle East, many of the people were starving. The parents quickly learned if they sent their children to beg the soldiers for food, they stood a better chance of eating that day.
One day, a little girl ran out into the road to gather a meal ready to eat kit a soldier threw out. As John drove down the dusty road, he said it was difficult to see. He didn’t see the almost 4-year-old until he couldn’t stop.
When this happens in the U.S., the police would come out and do an investigation. There, John said he emerged from his truck with his weapon, shooting into the air. He did so because of the 50-60 starving children ready to ransack his vehicle.
The mother came out and picked up her daughter and apologized to John. He said he simply had to get back into his truck and leave.
Later, after telling his commander what happened, John said he was told, “get over it, it’ll be all right.”
Again, war asks normal people to do unnatural things.
Recently, as John went to visit his family. As they traveled to a donut shop, they encountered the end of a parade. As families rushed into the street to pick up the leftover candy, John experienced a full-blown flashback.
His sister told him not to feel bad about it. Actually, she said, it helped her to realize what he went through. John, however, said he still feels stupid.
Teresa said she once loved fireworks. She simply loved the colors.
“I have not been to a firework celebration since 1991,” she said. “I can’t go. I’ll jump under a car.”
She can no longer watch them-especially the screamers-because she served at Khobar Towers when the SCUD Missiles came in.
She cannot travel without planning everything out from place A to place B. She has difficulty not knowing what possible dangers lie in front of her.
While in the Middle East, as John played fetch with his dog, the dog brought back an arm off a dead body.
War asks normal people to experience unnatural things.
Teresa said war also requires a person to do things they never thought possible. They can go without showering every day. They can drink lukewarm water. They can survive a SCUD attack.
But they can’t let themselves fall apart. They can’t let others see they aren’t strong.
When John came back, he described himself as different. He didn’t notice, but others did. He loved his job. He was good at his job. He simply could not do his job anymore.
He doesn’t speak to his children as often as he would like. Some days, he simply doesn’t have the energy to make the call.
“They’re always on my mind, I think about them all the time, I talk about them all the time, but I don’t communicate with them or anyone else,” he said.
Teresa’s marriage fell apart after she came back. Her husband told her if she did not give up custody of their daughter, he would make sure Teresa never saw her daughter again.
Being a combat vet is not conducive for a relationship, she said. For a woman, society makes it difficult.
“We come back and society says, ‘you’re back, be a mom, be a wife be a daughter, be a sister, start being a caretaker for everyone else and shove yourself aside like you’re supposed to,’” she said.
It took a road trip decades later for the mother and daughter to repair their relationship. Now, Teresa excitably expects her second grandchild.
Now John deals with PTSD every day. Some days, he finds it difficult to leave his bed. Others, he simply cannot clean up after himself.
He still scans the tops of building to look for people with guns trying to kill him.
“I was in a situation for 6-8 months where I had to worry about that,” he said.
Teresa said it took her until 2015 to be able to walk through her college campus without looking for gunmen ahead of her, around her and above her.
“When I was in Khobar Towers, we were told there are soldiers with machine guns up on top, on the roofs and if you go out after dark, you will be shot and killed,” she said. “There will be no questions asked, there will be no warning. They will kill you.”
War asks normal people to experience unnatural things.
Teresa said she tends to be clingy because she always thinks what if she doesn’t come home and they don’t know how she felt. She never wants her loved ones to not know she loves them.
John said PTSD does not limit itself to veterans. Those who have been sexually assaulted can experience it. Those with near-death experiences can experience it.
Teresa said alcohol can become a crutch. She knew it became a problem for her in 1994. She became numb. Nothing mattered, she said. She simply stopped caring.
John said he simply wants others to see him as a normal human being.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just want them to treat me like everybody else and don’t look at me in a different way,” he said.
He wants to help others. He hopes his story can help another find their way.
Teresa now devotes her life to help others find help. She said she lives with someone who died from complications with diabetes, PTSD and the military’s over-dependence on opioids. She vowed no other family would have to go through what she went through. She tells others her story. She hopes she can help them find their way.
“(I tell them) you need a mission. You need a project,” she said. “You need to find your passion. I found mine. Mine is helping advocate (and to) speak for veterans who cannot speak for themselves.”