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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Fighting Never Ends: One Returning Veteran's PTSD Saga

Today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports on one recently returned Iraq veteran's struggle with posttraumatic stress disorder. After serving a 14-month tour in Iraq, Jacob Hounshell ("a private first class in a scout platoon who was cited for his quick thinking during battle") went AWOL as he struggled to fight suicidal demons and nightmares; his parents stepped in to stem their son's downward spiral. Living in a small town, their personal struggle became political as they went public with their problems.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

"I have a few bad days, but I take them as they come, and I've learned to deal with it," he said. [Jacob] Hounshell, 21, who went AWOL from the Army after a 14-month tour in Iraq, is trying to start over, free from the military service that he said was a constant reminder of his one-time mental problems and fractious run-ins with his Army command.

The Army discharged him this month, 14 months early from his four-year enlistment, after he finished a monthlong jail sentence. "I'm happy as hell," the Brownwood man said. "I can go on with my life." ...

[T]he military has started a number of programs to help soldiers adapt to life back home after being in a war zone for a year at a time.

Rare, though, is the family that opens the door to its life the way the Hounshells did last May, when Bobbie and Larry Hounshell called the Star-Telegram because they didn't know anyone else to call. The Star-Telegram profiled them in a front-page story in June.

Jacob Hounshell, a private first class in a scout platoon who was cited for his quick thinking during battle, had gone AWOL from his unit at Fort Hood with his parents' help. He was suicidal, angry and emotional, and he couldn't sleep.

He and his family said that his commanders were indifferent to his problems and that the highly touted mental-health programs were not helpful. The Army denied both accusations. "We're not trying to hurt our soldiers overseas, and we didn't want this fight with the Army," his mother said at the time. "But my son had problems when he came home, and all he was told was, 'Drive on.'"

In a small town, the Hounshells paid a price for going public. They said many people shunned them, made hateful phone calls and were quick to judge.

Eventually Bobbie Hounshell wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, asking for understanding from a mother who couldn't say "that we were right or we were wrong. It is a decision based on love and emotion."

Where to begin with this?

Why exactly would this family have to be on the receiving end of this type of public backlash? Ah, the Politics of PTSD which says that our soldiers should be silent and problem-free lest their cries for help provide aid and comfort to the enemy. Could that be part of it?

For nine months, Jacob Hounshell stayed at his house in Brownwood, eventually finding a steady job. In February, he learned that a federal warrant was about to be issued.

That day he drove to Fort Hood and surrendered. Reassigned to his old unit, he reported for duty to a different commander and first sergeant, who he said treated him respectfully. He said that he was offered counseling by Army psychologists but that he declined because he had already soured on the system. "I just wanted to deal with it like I had been," he said.

In a summary court-martial in early March, an officer found Hounshell guilty of being absent without leave. The officer sentenced him to 30 days, to be served in the Bell County Jail.

It was the maximum punishment for a private first class.

Please read the rest of the article; and feel free to contact the Star-Telegram to let them know you appreciate their coverage of this issue.

[Jacob's story previously covered in 20 Years Old and Destroyed By War and PTSD.]

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