The Veterans Health Administration has reported it found PTSD in almost one in three soldiers since 2001. Examining the disorder in veterans and how it is treated was the subject of 'Of Men and War,' a film shown at this year's True/False Film Festival.
Lt. David Wells, a Columbia native, is one of the soldiers profiled in the film. He spoke with KBIA's Jack Howard about how an innovate treatment center in California helped him and how others with PTSD can find help.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
For us, we all come from the military so if you say at 7 o'clock you get your medicine, 8 o'clock you have trauma group, 9 o'clock you get your medicine, it doesn't work. You've got to give people the time you need. Sometimes we wouldn't even have trauma group because some of the guys couldn't even get out of bed that day. So be it.
That's what makes Pathway Home - where we were at and where the film takes place - unique. It needs to be on a schedule of residential. This is what we're doing, and this is how we're going to do it and there's no time table to it. And that's what they need to strive for.
Isn't getting away from the military contradictory?
It is but those people are trying to get away from the military a little bit. They're trying to heal themselves. It's a matter of survival at that point. It's not a matter of, 'am I going to be able to be a soldier again?' It's a matter of, 'am I going to be able to be a person again?'
What would you say to other soldiers who are just worried about surviving like you?
If they're still in the military they need to find a person in their chain of command to talk to who has been to combat, who would experience and understand. Not someone who has never been to combat who has an idea of it like it doesn't exist: 'Suck it up and drive on.' That person is detrimental to them never getting better.
But if you came to me, I've obviously been to combat, I've obviously seen the horrific parts of war. I'm going to relate. And I'm going to get you where you need to be to be a better soldier, be a better father, be a better husband. So you have to find the right person. If that means looking to see who's been in that space before, that's a person that's going to relate to you.
You can't go up to someone, just like I couldn't go up to a civilian who's never been in combat and tell war stories. Because they're going to be like, 'yeah, I got in a car wreck once.' It's not the same, you know? It's not the same.
How is it not the same?
Well it's hyper vigilant. Like right now you have something very close to my face. Before I would be pushing that away because it's a threat. But now I can look at that and obviously it's not a threat, it's a microphone and you're doing you're job.
But there are certain things that bring back memories of that. And there's a process of dealing with something that would take 2 or 3 days to deal with on your own. What's your coping mechanism? What can you use to get over it? It never goes away. I'll have PTSD my entire life.
How has it been being back in Columbia?
You know, it brings back fond memories. I enjoy being on the radio and doing that. Back [when I lived here] it was before the military, before 9/11, so I was still playing music. Still, you know, getting out of college and everything. And it was a different life almost, you know? And then the military happened.
During the Marine Corps, after 9/11, I was playing in a band actually at what used to be TP's in town. And I actually ran into our lead guitarist while I here for the festival. I haven't seen him in 15 years. So it's one of those things where it's kind of come full-circle being back in Columbia. It's my home town. But this is such a huge festival, but it's also been a nice homecoming and see, this is where I came from.