Goldsboro — When service members come home, the physical battle can become a mental one.
The Army says up to 25 percent of soldiers who return from Iraq show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and that's just one branch of the military.
Many of those troops are reluctant to ask for help. One former airman did, but he said that started a chain reaction that eventually cost him his job.
“It’s almost like I was never in the military at all, except for memories,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Damon Wood.
It's the memories that haunt Wood. After two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan during almost nine years in the Air Force, he said he'll never be the same.
“I came back messed up this time,” he said.
Wood said he watched a roadside bomb explode right in front of him and that he saw many other horrors. For years, he kept quiet about how the war was affecting him. But when he finally asked for help, Wood said it cost him his career.
“If you go to mental health, you lose your weapon. You lose your job,” he said.
Wood admits he made mistakes. Anxiety, hyper-vigilance and almost no sleep led to drinking. He was charged twice in two months with driving under the influence, he said. Instead of fighting to get him back on the job, Wood said, his commander fought to kick him out of the Air Force.
“What I was called by the commander is a disease in his squadron,” he said.
Wood is not alone. Two other members of his squadron told WRAL they suffer from PTSD and are not getting the help they need. One of them is also in the process of being discharged.
A spokesperson for Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base wouldn't talk about this case, but said mental health experts on base do everything they can for airmen with PTSD.
Wood said, however, that too many veterans are thrown away because they can no longer fight in Iraq.
“They’re not looking after troops. We’re just numbers,” he said. “It I had come back from there missing an arm or leg, and then got in trouble or something like that, I’d probably still be treated as a hero.”
A local attorney who specializes in military law said most veterans with PTSD do get into trouble with substance abuse soon after they return from war. Once diagnosed, he said, their biggest challenge is keeping their retirement and medical benefits.