The Wilderness After War

wawHart Viges, Mark Wilkerson and Jessica Goodell all volunteered for the military.
They all chose to go to war, and they have all suffered from PTSD.
But none of them fully recognized it until after they were home.
The war over there – its smells, its sounds, the reflexes they developed to survive – forced its way into their lives over here.

Wilderness After War from The Ochberg Society on Vimeo.

Trauma works on people in different ways. Some are affected by physical wounds, others by past traumas brought to light in the wake of war, and others by their direct experience in the theatre of war. Nothing is “normal” in war. Young men and women are immersed in something so intense, experiencing in a period of a few months things that most of us will never face in our lifetime.

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Sex and the Wounded Soldier

sawWhen I first met Pete Yazgier, he was fond of wearing an olive-green novelty T-shirt that read, “WANNA PLAY ARMY? I’ll lie down and you can blow the hell outta me.”

The shirt scanned differently on Pete than it might have on most other active-duty U.S. Army specialists. At the time, the Somerset, N.J., native boasted a stark gash across the left half of his skull, from where he had, in fact, just had the hell blown out of him; during his deployment in Baghdad, a rocket-propelled grenade collided with Pete’s Humvee and nearly took his life. Amidst the blur of surgeries that followed, his doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., discovered that, along with severe cranial trauma, Pete, in his late twenties, had brain cancer to boot.

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For Vets, a New Version of Justice

rd360x300Joseph Thrower still remembers the battlefields of Vietnam in the present tense. “I’m a target automatically: I’m 6’6”. You don’t have to shoot the legs; just shoot the head and I’m gone. That’s why I was blessed to be back here. The day I got back I kissed the ground.”

Thrower, 64, is one of one of nearly one million veterans living in New York State. Like many of his peers, he has long coped with having fought an unpopular war. He began to drink in the 1970s and then escalated into drugs. By the time he was arrested in October 2011, Thrower had a cocaine habit. But what got him into trouble was being caught with a bag of weed.

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The Narrative Comes Later

nr440x300Military criminal investigator Russell W. Strand has news for journalists who report on intimate violence: Old-school, just-the-facts-ma’am, Joe-Friday techniques do more harm than good.

“You do actually cover these stories in a way that, without intending to, can re-traumatize people,” said Strand, chief of the Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division at the U.S. Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. “Military sexual trauma takes away everything you are in minute. It’s the situations afterward that can define who you’ll become, whether you’ll be a victim or you’ll be a survivor. The media can do so much good, and they can do so much damage.”

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After Agent Orange, Still No Reprieve

22In the summer of 1972, Ken Hummel reported to Vietnam on the U.S.S. Basilone, a Navy destroyer.  Hummel’s ship provided gunfire support and conducted special operations in the Gulf of Tonkin. Though he never set foot on Vietnamese soil, “I got close enough to shore that I could throw rocks at it,” Hummel says.

In the early 1980s, Hummel developed skin lesions later diagnosed as chloracne, a skin condition caused by exposure to chlorine compounds, and especially associated with the toxic dioxins in Agent Orange. Hummel’s subsequent health problems included high blood pressure and an enlarged aortic aneurism. In 2005, Hummel was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Aware that prostate cancer is listed as a presumed Agent Orange illness, and therefore eligible for VA disability compensation, Hummel filed a claim.

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