Local News

Army Vets Suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Posted July 24, 2007 6:23 a.m. EDT

— When soldiers come home, the physical battle can become a mental one. The Army said up to 25 percent of soldiers who return from Iraq show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of those troops are reluctant to ask for help, but when one former airman did, he claims it started a chain reaction that eventually cost him his job.

After two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, former Airman Damon Wood said he will never be the same.

"I came back messed up this time," he said.

Wood watched a roadside bomb explode right in front of him. He said it is just one of many horrors he saw. For years, he kept quiet about how war was affecting him. But when he finally asked for help, Damon said it cost him his career.

"If you go to mental health, you lose your weapon. You lose your job," he said.

Wood admits that he made mistakes. He said anxiety, hyper-vigilance and almost no sleep led to drinking. He said he received two DUIs in two months. 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 this commander is a disease in his squadron," Wood said.

Two other members of Wood's squadron claim they suffer from post-traumatic stress, and they're not getting the help they need. One of them said he is in the process of being discharged.

A representative for Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base would not talk about the case, but he said mental health experts on base do everything they can for Airmen with PTSD.

"They're not looking after troops. We're just numbers," Wood said.

Wood said too many veterans are thrown away, because they can no longer fight in Iraq. Yet, they are still fighting an unseen enemy at home.

"If I had come back from there, missing an arm or leg, and then got into trouble, I'd still be treated as a hero," he said.

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 the biggest challenge is keeping their retirement and medical benefits.