(This is the second part of a story that started with Todd, a Portsmouth vet – or so he claims)

OK so it turns out that Todd’s story may not be true. His claim to be a hero and victim of PTSD is disputed by his aunt. According to her, “NO, NO, NO, HE DID NOT SERVE IN AFGHANISTAN OR ANY OF THAT. I have NO medals here. I can’t confirm the year (s) he was in the service and I think, but not sure, he was stationed in New Jersey. Don’t print anything he says. He is a very sick alcoholic.”

OK Auntie, but here are the facts:
He did serve
He is homeless
He does need help.
And I did smell alcohol on his breath at 9 in the morning.

Who knows what part his service played in shaping the rest of his life? I don’t know Todd well or his aunt at all, and as I said last week, the truth of the matter is and isn’t important. There are many stories that are true.

A Vet’s Advice
Ben was deployed for six years and came home to raise his family. “I’ve had a terrible time figuring out how to deal with my PTSD and injuries. Making a living wage is hard when I have a hard time concentrating.”

He struggles to counsel those who want to help. “I don’t know. If I knew better, I’d be dealing better. My advice to returning vets: Get a good doctor and don’t trust the V.A. any more than you have to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Feeling suicidal doesn’t mean you’re weak.”

How many of us have to live this way? How many of us need that advice to survive?
Rich, a doctor friend of mine, has a unique perspective on returning vets. He was the Command Surgeon in New York City for a regional readiness command, which is to say that he was responsible for maintaining the medical readiness of the units, interviewing each soldier before deployment and upon their return.

He reminds me that PTSD is a catch-all for a “a spectrum of disorders from the stress of combat to the stress of separation to the stress of being involved in a mass casualty as a first responder.”
He sees PTSD as a very individual thing. “I believe there is a pre-existing mental status that makes certain individuals more susceptible to PTSD, a chronic anxiety disorder or depressive personality disorder. I think those individuals probably would best be served by psychiatric treatment.”
But there is a problem.

Obstacles to Re-entry
Joe was a Marine deployed in the Middle East during the first Desert Storm. Some of his buddies never received treatment. “There’s a lot of shame involved. That’s why most veterans with PTSD keep mum about their experiences… plus they feel there is no one to talk to about these things. If still on active duty, the serviceman feels that revealing thoughts and anxieties to comrades and/or superiors might compromise their trust in him and may even ruin his career.”

Rich sees other problems with re-entry. “The solider in combat is trained to react to the world in a whole different way. If he is on the front lines in a combat situation he has to have an increased alertness to his surroundings. He is aware of imminent danger and his level of anxiety is increased. He is taught a new sense of values which are dramatically different than those he has learned in his family or church. Killing is okay! When he returns to peacetime or the civilian world he has to re-learn civilian values.

“All the above is complicated by drug and alcohol abuse,” adds Joe, “Military culture is still centered on the idea of the ‘hard-drinking, hard-fighting’ serviceman, and our civilian culture has embraced foreign substance abuse as an acceptable lifestyle as well.”

Apples & Testaments
Back to Todd though. In a Sunday sermon I shared his story. After the service a woman approached me in tears, handing me a 10 dollar bill. “Please give this to Todd and tell him we appreciate his service.” I carried that bill in my pocket for two weeks before I finally saw him again walking downtown. I pulled over, put down my window and did as I was told. A few days later I spotted Todd on a stoop downtown. I walked toward him and noticed someone had left two New Testaments and two shiny apples on a bench nearby. Taking one of each I sat down beside Todd and said, “God really does love you, Todd. This little book will tell you all about it.”

He gave me that, “I’ve heard it all before” look.

Someone had left those apples and testaments at the right place at the right time and probably prayed that they would find the right person.
They did. If I never see Todd again others will enter his life. I’m convinced of it. I will continue to pray for them and for him. Prayer may be the best way to help.

Better than coffee and apples.


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