Post-traumatic stress disorder plagues war veterans after they return to what most call normalcy

Nicolaas Koppert

CSUN student Nicolaas Koppert copes with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning home from Iraq two years ago. Photo Courtesy of Nicolaas Koppert
CSUN student Nicolaas Koppert copes with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning home from Iraq two years ago. Photo Courtesy of Nicolaas Koppert

Veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan today finding it more difficult to cope with everyday life in America than it was to deal with war. In September 2007, I came home thinking that it was taboo for an infantry soldier to discuss personal problems with a doctor. It took me about a year to seek help and even today I am afraid of telling my comrades.

Two years after returning home from Operation Iraqi Freedom I have experienced the ins and outs of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as I cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Last year I was diagnosed with PTSD and with the help of VA psychiatrists and the Vet Center I have easily transferred not only into civilian life, but college life.

Veterans of all generations often have the same issues and feel as though only certain people will understand them. Not all veterans come home with PTSD but still find trouble adjusting to civilian life.

Faviola Lomeli, an Iraq war veteran, compared talking to a fellow veteran as a breath of fresh air. Coming home from war she felt “isolated and mentally different, like no one understands you.”

Her comments reflect what I would write in my journal, “The thing that bothers me the most is that people don’t understand. I feel trapped, once again. I wish they only knew.”
The army took a physical toll on Lomeli and she was medically discharged. She is now being treated by the VA hospital for a pinched nerve in her back and a loss of cartilage. Lomeli found the VA hospital helpful as long as she knew how to ask for what she needed.

Lomeli misses the military life and wishes that more people would “appreciate the personnel who fight for their comfort.”

She now works for Mitre Corp., a company that provides technical expertise for the government, and is happy to be working with fellow veterans. “We understand the meaning of a job, most other civilians complain too much,” Lomeli said.

However, too many service members are unable to make the transition, as suicide rates among army veterans were at its highest last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The feelings I had of guilt and anger went unnoticed until a few months after I returned and met the family of a fallen comrade for the first time. I remember walking to their home in Granada Hills. I parked half a mile away to get time in for a cigarette and think of how to greet a woman who lost her oldest son. It ended up that his mother would be the most unselfish person I would ever meet. I was in disbelief when she asked, “What she could do for me?”

I was happy that I met them, but after I put too much pressure on myself to be as great as their son was. He had many dreams and I felt I had to fulfill them. When I began college after returning, I aimed for no less than perfection.

“I’ve been back in school for about two weeks now and honestly it gives me a mixed feeling of fear and excitement. I’m trying to write this paper and it has taken me two hours to write less than one page. I can’t stop perfecting it,” I wrote in my journal in January 2008.

I was constantly overwhelmed. When I was not thinking of doing my best at school I felt “guilty that I am not over there, that I’m missing out on something.” I received a call from the VA hospital, asking if I would like to come in for an evaluation. I forced myself to go in to the hospital where I received anti-anxiety medication and was referred to the local vet center where I was able to talk to a counselor.