Photographs by Terry
In 2009, my son Michael was deployed with his United State Army artillery unit as combat engineers conducting route clearance operations. During their deployment, the unit was plagued by countless improvised explosive device explosions, which destroyed numerous vehicles and caused a number of injuries. Being involved in the deadliest and bloodiest years of the Afghanistan war, collectively they were involved in numerous firefights and had four close friends killed in action during the deployment. After returning to the U.S., my son as well as many of his military brothers began to have nightmares, flashbacks and difficulties dealing with everyday life. While my son was not “officially” diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder while on active duty, he displayed most if not all of the symptoms that began to take their toll on him.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. The traumatic events most often associated with PTSD for men are rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. The most traumatic events for women are military combat, rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse.
Recently the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a survey of the suicide rate of returning veterans. It is important to note that only 23 of the 50 States responded to the survey. This survey revealed that 22 returning veterans commit suicide each day. Realistically, the number veteran suicides each day is probably much higher than 22 a day.
After some time and battling the “demons” from his experiences in Afghanistan and the loss of his closest friends, my son had to start coping with soldiers from his unit committing suicide at an alarming rate. After realizing he needed help to overcome his own issues, Michael successfully overcame many of the hardships and developed a non-profit organization, Veterans Support Initiative (http://www.vetsupportinitiative.org and https://www.facebook.com/vetsupportinitiative/). This organization is devoted to assist U.S. veterans from any branch of service, from any war who are having hardships related to PTSD, thoughts of suicide and are having trouble locating resources, or just need someone to talk with. The organization’s overall goal is to eliminate all the factors that contribute to veteran suicide. In four months, this organization has prevented 17 veteran suicides, assisted 6 families with household furnishings, relocated 4 veterans close to family who were in risk of being homeless.
During one of our discussions, Michael asked that I assist his organization by developing a series of images devoted to PTSD. He wanted to dedicate the series not only to him individually, but to all of his fellow veterans who face the challenges. He emphasized that the common thoughts, experiences and feelings are shared within the veteran culture that it is necessary to make the series recognizable to all veterans suffering from this invisible wound of war. An enormous challenge with this series was to answer this question, how do you photograph PTSD? After considerable thought and speaking with veterans suffering with PTSD, I created the following images, which depict the way Michael and I see PTSD.