Deployed to: Kuwait (2001), Iraq (2004).
The injury: “We were attacked by insurgents on a mission. I was shot in the chest. I had my flight vest on, so it didn’t penetrate, but I was in the back of a deuce and a half [a truck with removable sides that you can put canvas over]. I fell off when I got shot, and sustained injuries because we were going 45 mph. I ruptured parts of my liver and intestines, had internal hemorrhaging, broken ribs.”
The aftermath: “I was terrified of everything. I didn’t trust myself. … Everything seemed volatile and unpredictable. Apart from the nightmares—that was the worst thing—I’d be obsessive, checking and re-checking things. The agoraphobia was pretty bad, too. I didn’t want to go out by myself. I couldn’t let anybody else drive a vehicle I was in. You have to be in control; you’re in fight-or-flight response … One of my dogs passed away recently, and I was retriggered. I had to make sure everybody was still alive, or I couldn’t sleep.”
The treatment: “All kinds … talk therapy, group therapy, medication, EMDR [eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing].”
Today: “I’m working on my Ph.D. in evolutionary psychology at UNLV. In Iraq, I had troops that would go out to different areas and experience the same situation, but maybe one would come back completely traumatized, and the others would be fine. I found this perplexing. The research I’m doing now is looking at ground combat soldiers to see why that happens. I’m studying a group of vets locally, and I have a paper coming out soon.”