Battle In Their Hearts


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It was around Veterans Day last year when Ken Iaciofano began to drink heavier than usual. The 22-year-old Iraq Veteran was known to be a drinker but it had gotten worse in the fall, culminating in a drunk driving accident that injured several people, including himself. To the prosecutors and court system in Cumberland, Rhode Island, he must have seemed like a trouble making alcoholic. To his lifelong friends from the Army, he was the funny guy everyone called ‘Ice’ for short. But when he found himself hours away from his nearest battle buddy and facing prison time for his drunk driving, he turned to the bottle for help. On the weekend of Veterans Day, it was just him and a bottle of vodka. His odd decision to take a bath under the influence was the last he would make. At some point he slipped under the water, and his grandmother found him in the tub, drowned. One of the nicest guys from my infantry company survived a deployment to Iraq only to die in his own bathroom. His friends would later say they didn’t know he was suffering that badly.


Every November 11, the country takes the time to honor Veterans who have served the country in uniform. The day is often confused with Memorial Day, when the nation remembers those killed while in the service. Veterans Day is reserved to remember all those who have served, both living and deceased. Through their service, Vets often possess a strong sense of history and legacy of the military. Many understand they aren’t the first, and certainly not the last, to put on the uniform. They carry on tradition and pass it off to those who come after. Unfortunately, they pass along damaging stigmas as well. The hardest one to fight undoubtedly is that only the weak are stricken with Post Traumatic Stress.

“Must you carry the bloody horror of combat in your heart forever?”
Homer, “The Odyssey”

Combat trauma is as ancient as combat itself, but many don’t view it that way. Even before Odysseus sailed from Troy with the burden of battle on his mind, the horrors of war have exacted a toll on the men and women who have fought them. Just as Veterans continue the legacy of service and sacrifice, post traumatic stress will be carried through the ages as an immovable aspect of the battlefield, just as real and damaging as tanks and artillery. Recent studies have even suggested that the brain undergoes physical changes after experiencing traumatic stress. The danger is real and serious, but stereotypes and mischaracterizations plague the military and discourage service members from getting the help they need both as service members and Veterans.

What can be done to fight the stigma? The answer has eluded doctors, physicians and Veterans ever since PTS and PTSD were considered bona fide injuries after Vietnam. Luckily, awareness of post traumatic stress has risen dramatically over the past several years. Wartorn: 1861-2010, a documentary about PTSD from the Civil War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, debuts today on HBO. Before its release, it was screened at the Pentagon where a Defense Department and VA-led panel discussed ideas to address the suicide crisis affecting the military and Veteran communities. Chief among them: communities must embrace and look after warriors when they come home. Recognizing the signs of PTS and PTSD could save a life in crisis. Many Veterans simply don’t know what resources are available to help. VA’s Suicide Prevention line can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and a live chat can be accessed at the Veterans Suicide Prevention site. Both are manned 24/7.

The population of female Veterans continues to grow. The consequences for unprecedented roles for women in combat mean unique and challenging PTSD and suicide prevention needs. Programs and services are available for women at VA, as well as resources to address Military Sexual Trauma.

Veterans Day honors both the living and the dead, but those who come home from war have earned a happy and full life. To join the ranks of the proud who served the nation is the best way to honor the fallen who didn’t make it back. But the military and Veteran communities shouldn’t share the burden to watch out for signs of PTS and PTSD. Families, friends, coworkers and neighbors must do their part to recognize the signs and help Veterans get the care they need. I can’t think of a better way to say “Thank you for your service.”

No one can say for certain if Ice was in an emotional crisis during the last moments of his life, but it is clear he was in need of help. The nation is dishonored whenever a combat Veteran loses his life after surviving war, so it is up to each and every one of us to do our part to ensure every Veterans Day is met with cherished memories of service instead of hopelessness. Whenever you see a Veteran, just don’t say “Thank you,” but ask that ever important question, “How are you doing?” Have that 1-800 number handy. You could be saving a life.

John S Y Lee/Flickr

Author

Alex Horton

Comments

  1. Craig Mulligan    

    Hey Alex. I served with you and Ice in Iraq. Ice was my best friend; we served together in the same squad for the duration of his term of service. I knew exactly what was going on with him prior to his ETS, but instead of staying in Wa with me like I asked, Ken decided to go home any way. He tried calling me the night he died, but I didn’t hear his call. Many people don’t understand Ken, unless you lived with him day in and day out it was impossible to. One thing that has been severely lacking, is a true representation of Ice. Someone to express his true thoughts and feelings, his story. I think that acknowledgment of those things is a step in the right direction.

  2. MMA Clothing    

    Im a war vetran myself, I served in the British army for 5 years. When I left I thought i could just adjust to civvy life but ive really struggled. I was basically just threw out and left to get on with it. I hope things change for people in the future.

  3. Mike Johnsson    

    Should really be more help available to war veterans.

  4. Think twice    

    Every veteran needs to know that they need to guard every word that comes out of their mouths, every time that they speak around a VA health professional. I didn’t, so I didn’t withhold that when I was 12 that I saw a counselor in eighth grade for a couple of months because I felt out of place as I was attending a new school. Yet after seeing a VA mental health counselor for over two years and had filed a claim for service connection due to a service connected illness. I was depressed because of the chronic pain and sickness. not to mention that my illness can cost me my life and I had a hard time dealing with that. The C&P evaluation doctor said in her report that although discussing this vets obvious depression and anxiety for the last two plus years and that yes this might be related to his current medical condition, but that since I sought counseling when I was twelve that it is just a case of natural progression of an illness. That I was broke way before I ever entered the service. Although I had only sought treatment once as an adult at the current VA, that since I was depressed one time when I was twelve that then the VA has no responsibility. This despite that I served with honor and distinction for over 7 years, got out was never depressed or had any incidences or bouts of deression until I had a service connected illness. It was the standard PTSD diagnosis that the VA Mental Health Care Department issued in its memo, that lets make sure that we ty the vets illness into an incident prior to or outside of service and say that this is the reason that this vet is screwed up. That the military service and witnessing horrible things has nothing to do with this vets problems, or being chronically ill or in pain, that even though many teenagers experience depression and so forth, lets get them to admit to one bout and then we can say we the VA have no liability to this vet. It’s “The natural progression of this vets illness prior to entering service.” So the lesson learned is that you need know your audience, guard everything that ever comes out of your mouth, don’t be honest, truthful and forthcoming with any facts, just be on the defensive at all times with your doctor’s and you will be ok. Otherwise everything that these VA C&P examiner’s can use against you will be used. Believe me if any of you think that these C&P examiners are their to lookout for you the veteran, remember who pays them for conducting these exams? Oh yeah it’s the VA who does, and ask yourself then if these doctor’s reviewed each and every claim openly and honestly and they referred say 75% or even 50% of the vets that they examined to receive disability compensation for their claims how long would they be employed by the VA? Why at least at my location are all the VA C&P examiners all retired military doctor’s or why are they currently on the VAMC staff? Come on people, the deck is stacked against you before you even have shown up for that appointment. A fair and impartial C&P exam would be conducted off a VA medical facility, by regular civilian doctor’s at their regular practices, but keep in mind even if this were the case, were does the money come from? I know they would say it’s convience and location and yada yada yada, but the real reason is that this C%P doctor’s are part of the problem that all us vets are fighting. I know that I live in a fantasy world were I think that most people should be or are honest, be objective, open minded, but the VA’s attitude is that you the vet are maligerer’s, are scumbags trying to get something for nothing, are trying to make Uncle Sam become liable because you fell into hard times, or you just blame the government because you became ill. So if you realize that before you walk into the door of every VA facility then you’ll think twice about everything that you ever say or do. Think twice.

  5. Former VHA Employeeand    

    Glad they didn’t hire me as a typist or speller – the name is Former VHA Employee.

  6. Former VHA Employeeand    

    Sadly, so many of our young men and women have the same issues. Thankfully in Arkansas the National Guard Units here have set up mechanisms to assist and our VHA employees have accommodated these and all veterans, 24/7 and are not compensated for their work. We love ALL of our veterans!

  7. KLindsay    

    P.S. My experience is that God processes prayers 35 years quicker than VA accepts responsibility for and processes claims.

  8. KLindsay    

    Ken Iaciofano’s story is all to familar. Self medication is one of the first treatments for PTSD. Self destruction is often the second when the first no longer works.

    As a Vietnam Era Vet, I spent two years in Korea in the Second Infantry Division. I did pretty well as a communication section chief until a couple of events left me with PTSD and maybe a brain injury.

    This condition went undiagnosed
    for 30 years. During those 30 years I oftened self medicated
    when my faith in God might have been low. The only way I have found to deal with the some of the issues that often come with PTSD, “homelessness,under employment, self medication, suicide”

    Has been Faith in God, everything else often seems to diminish three very important attributes of my faith.

    Which are “Faith, Hope and Charity being the road to prosperity.

    God Does Bless all of us if we ask for it.

    Ken Lindsay

    1. Think twice    

      To Ken Lindsay, May God continue to bless you! With what I have gone through over the last nine years that’s all I have faith in…God As I have lost faith in my fellow human beings, especially those employed by the VA. I have always thought that if someone would just take the time and judge my claim fairly, openly and honestly then they (The VA) would see and come to the same conclusions that my doctor’s have come to, that being that yes the VA has liability here to this veteran. But no, like a bad dream that keeps reoccurring it just keeps going on and on. So I too cling to my faith in the Almighty and figure if it’s meant to be it will be. I just pray that when and if that day does arrive when the VA does actually review my claim and judges it on its total merits and awards the benefits that my wife and I and my doctor’s believe that I am entitled to, that I am still here. I just want to ensure that my wife has something if I leave her behind, other than just mountains of medical debts as well as hate and disgust to the very fact that I ever wore a uniform in service to our country. We are so proud that I and other’s in my family have and are serving, don’t get me wrong, it’s just with the way that the VA has treated myself and other vets that is disgusting. Again God Bless you and your family!

  9. Brandi    

    More and more is being done to prevent suicide attempts and to help those who have already made an attempt. For this I am grateful. Please continue the improvements. I am a spouse with an active duty PTSD sufferer. It has been diagnosed and treated off and on with medication and counseling. The off and on was my husband’s choice, not the military. I truly believe more resources should be provided for the spouses of PTSD sufferers. I feel I should be able to go to someone and schedule a counseling session for myself. Not only to help me learn to help my husband, but to help me. It makes a loved one feel useless and responsible when they cannot help during an episode (that is what I call the periods of silence that let me know he is lost in the horrors of his memories and no longer in the present). These counseling sessions should also be able to be designed as “couples counseling” long before the “d” word is ever brought up. Just to help us remember that things will never be the same as before and to help us see the differences and learn to address them. And please do not think that just because I say this service should be provided to spouses I mean them exclusively. I believe all family members should have this benefit. Not just VA, Army, and Marines either. All too often we forget the Navy and Air Force is going through the same trauma and those sailors and airmen and their families deserve the same support as their brethren. We continually hear, “support the wounded, be there when they need you,” but no one tells us, the support system, how to do this. All we are told is here is the suicide hot line number. As valuable a resource as that is, shouldn’t there be resources in place to be used long before things get to that point?

    1. Jenn V    

      My heart goes out to you Brandi. At the Lewiston, Idaho VA CBOC we are currently running a support goup for spouses of Veteran’s with PTSD. It is a wonderful group and has already proven well worth the time and effort of our staff to coordinate. Maybe you can call your local clinic and ask about the possibility of beginning this kind of support group in your area. It can be as simple as supply and demand, if you demand it in conjunction with other concerned spouses in your area, maybe they will supply it!

  10. Thomas Hudson    

    My Ending Story of Duty, Honor and Country

    Houston, Texas: My name is Thomas W. Hudson. I am extremely appreciative of the medical care that I have received from The VA. I had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and have had several operations within the past year. However, there are several issues that are very frustrating and even traumatic.

    I will make several posts concerning them. But, first I will give you a summary of an event that I am unable to get over and focus on my medical condition because no one at the VA will do anything within reason to help me to bring closure. Also, due to this event and the ongoing implications of today’s events I am going compelled to , without any other recourse, discontinue my care and in effect ending my life, as I knew it, as a result of the VA’s in-action and malpractice.

    The event in question had begun in July, 2009. Due to my rare form of cancer the tumors in my liver re-least large amounts of hormones into my system. Because of that my mood swings are drastically affected. I had became suicidal when the mood swing had hit rock bottom. This happen for about three days at a time before the hormones would level out.

    Because of suicidal idealations I began to call the VA Suicide Hotline. I would tell them that I had learned from another veteran that you can buy insulin over the counter without a prescription. I am not diabetic. I had bought insulin and the syringes several times with plans to end my life. The problem was that I have an extreme phobia of needles.

    I then purchased sleeping pills with the idea of using them as a sedative hence enabling me to get the nerve up to stick the need in. Because I do not have any family I would want to talk to someone as if on my death bed while I died. Being very emotional and no one to call I had called the hotline. After several attempts I took the sleeping pills as a sedative and had even had the syringes drawn up ready to go. After taking the pills L had called the hotline just to talk and to tell someone by. Again, I could not stick the needle into myself and experience another anxiety attack.

    The hotline then talked me into going into the Houston VA emergency room since I was outside the hospital. I then went into the ER waiting room and guess what happened? Do you think that I was admitted to the ER and then the hospital? NO!

    I was immediately taken into the VA Police holding cell. Inside there a Lt. FRANK AREVALO kept on calling me a “punk” and telling me that I was attention getting. This went on for hours. I had asked him if I could see a doctor because I was experiencing the effects of the sleeping pills. After telling him that I had taken the pills he stated to me that I was lying and that I had my chance of seeing a doctor and that I was going to jail. At that point I had told him about the empty box of pills and the loaded syringes of insulin laying on my front sit in my car. He had continued to deny me medical attention. He did confiscate the insulin.

    Here I was in a hospital where the Hotline had talked me into going and a overzealous police officer denied me medical attention and maliciously files false information with the Harris County District Attorney to obtain a warrant for “telephone Harassment.”

    Here is an excerpt from the VA Police Report: “I observed a white male, brown hair, glasses wearing a gray t-shirt and blue jeans I knew to be Hudson in the E.R. waiting room. Hudson had been calling Telecare and the National Suicide Hotline stating he wanted to commit suicide numerous times.” “At 2230 hours, Ofc. Gann advised Hudson of his Constitutional Rights which Hudson waived and acknowledged he was using the hotline because he needed someone to talk to.” (Excuse me….1-800-273-TALK) I had been transported the next morning to Harris County Jail and charged with Telephone Harassment. A day later the judge was disturbed (he was a veteran also) and dismissed the charge.

    While in jail my car had been towed. The towed truck driver had stowed my briefcase which had allot of personal important papers. He took my checks and had forged my name and cashes a check while I was in jail. The towing company had me to sign a release of liability which at the time I had no chose because I had no money and needed my car out of empound.

    I had decided that instead of allowing an attorney to file litigation I wanted to try to resolve the issue within side the local hospital. I needed to do that for closure and to move on and focus on my serious medical condition. When I bring this issue up like in mental health I am immediately shut down. I had try to request a meeting within the Director’s office, Consumer Affairs and even with Dr. Marsh. The issue still haunts me today and the Lt Arevalo continues to harass me.

    The purpose of telling this story within this forum is to bring attention to all veterans that calling the Hotline has risks. Do you know what it was like to sleep in a jail tank under the influence of 25 sleeping pills and getting kicked when you don’t hear someone calling you? Do you know what it was like when sitting in a probable cause hearing the inmate next to you had been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a minor? Then, the police report concerning me is read and everyone hears that I am in jail because I was calling a suicide hotline operated by the VA and talking about committing suicide? One big laugh in disbelief!

    To this day no one in the VA cares enough to give me a credible hearing with the hopes of giving me closure. Instead, I get a stone wall. I also do not need a discussion with a police officer from the Houston VA alone. That is like the fox guarding the hen house. Due to my background, the Houston VA Police debating law with me is like a dog catcher telling a General how to fight a war.

    Due to my illness I have to go to chemotherapy and have many other appointments and other procedures and test that I need. Many of my medical supplies are due to run out of refills. I do not have the chance now to go back and do all of this because of what has recently has happen I just can’t continue to go back to this VA. I had mentioned to a VA staff member that all of the issues have effectively ended my life.

    I have recently had learned in one day that one of the tumors in my liver has double in size within 3 months and that my PSA level (prostate) is almost double the normal limit. Due to the tumor problem surgery is not an option anymore and therefore chemoembolization is planned. I am going to try and go to an urologist appointment tomorrow just to see about my prostate which I am extremely scared about considering my family history. After that, notwithstanding an intervention of help from the VA from the national level, I have no hope. My plans now are private but it does not include the VA in Houston. It also does not include calling the hotline ever again with hopes of receiving help after being arrested in a VA emergency room waiting room.

    Just one last question and point: can you imagine that after the VA puts enormous information out in the public domain that there is help and then you come out of a county jail after calling the hotline? I had lost my wife to cancer and then I took care of my dear mother and then she died from Alzheimer’s. After all of that and then walking out of jail I felt like my country had abandon me and that my heart had been ripped out.

    Now, I have to deal with my serious medical condition and the fact that there seems to be no hope of anyone within the VA of helping me to move forward. Also, I now have to worry that I will be arrested again for harassment for simply posting my story on this forum.

    In closing, I DO NOT attack an entire institution due to the actions of a few. I had served in the Army National Guard and in the Air Force active service during the Vietnam Era. I love my country and I love and support the men and woman in uniform and the ones who became Veterans. I just wish that the politicians and the VA would do the same and stop giving lip service when a veteran hurts such as I do because of this situation. Time is short and I invite any ideas of hope that you may have. {Dr. Marsh 713-791-1414 ext 6882}

  11. Robert Taylor    

    as a VN Vet and someone who suffers severly from PTSD and depression, I have yet to see help from my area ,New Orleans, VA help.the counselors don’t have aclue and just want to push meds.when told they can’t do much for a VN vet, but maybe can learn from us to help current Vets from todazys actions, it’s disturbing.there should be a better way to help us in need

  12. Clarissa Saum    

    My husband is a Viet Nam combat veteran. My son served two tours in Iraq. Both suffer from PTSD, but all the VA doctors seem to want to do is medicate them. Half an hour of “counseling” once a month or as in my husband’s case, once every two or three months is not enough, and the medication seriously does not help. With all the studies for PTSD done in the past 30 or so years, one would think there is a better answer than just medicating them into a stupor.

  13. George Capehart    

    I am a Vietnam vet and I’ve lived with PTSD for the past 40 years. Just
    recently I found out about the VA’s program and since then I’ve been seeing a
    psychiatrist and attending group meetings in the Charlotte, NC clinic. I
    would like to publicly express my heartfelt appreciation for the help and
    support I’ve gotten from Drs Aflatooni, Thigpen and Gonzalez.

  14. Steve Roberts    

    I am not sure there is a cure for moral injury of the soul. You learn to live with your thoughts, but sometimes hell doesn’t seem that far away.

    1. Alex Horton    

      I don’t think there are cures either, but there are certainly treatments that help manage those issues.

      1. Steve Roberts    

        Hi, Alex. The counseling services are not often enough or of good quality, but there are always pills a plenty. After tiring of being a test case for pharmacuticals, and new counselors everytime a new counseling session is scheduled leaving the frustration palletable. Rapport and trust with a counselor is never established. A typical counseling session involves the counselor looking at a computer screen and marking of their checklist. We don’t leave our soldiers on the battlefield anymore, just bring soldiers home for abandonment.

  15. Cheryl    

    PTSD is real. I am being evaluated for it, although it has taken over a year and 3 attempted suicides to get the VA’s attention for it. It has now been 1 month since they started the “evaluation”. I didn’t serve in combat, but had enough trauma of my own while in the service. The VA wants to help, but they can’t seem to get going to do it, or continue with it. They keep taking away things that work (like my meds for panic) and won’t pay attention to areas that cause severe physical pain. I can’t complain too much tho, at least I can go to them, as I have no insurance.

    1. Alex Horton    

      Cheryl, sorry to hear about your inconsistent treatment. The large amount of women Veterans has caused a lot of people within VA to reevaluate their unique needs. It’s taking time but I think we’re making strides. I’ll pass along your comment. Thanks for your service.

  16. Laura    

    My Dad was 17 when he enrolled in the Army. He did two tours in Vietnam and suffered ever since then from PTSD and alcoholism. January 3rd of this year, My dad took his own life. We, as his family knew he was suffering from PTSD and knew he needed help. We thought he was getting the help he needed through the VA, but apprently it was not enough. It was at the time, that we got every medical record of his that we found out how bad he was really, really, suffering. I miss my Dad more than words can say and I know how serious PTSD is. A lot of people out there don’t know how serious this is. So if you think even for a second that someone you know is suffering from this….BE THERE FOR THEM, SUPPORT THEM AND LET THEM KNOW THAT HELP IS OUT THERE. This post is great and I hope that one day PTSD Awareness is taken more seriously.

    1. Alex Horton    

      Thank you for sharing Laura, and I’m sorry VA services weren’t enough to save him. Often times it’s only part of the solution. Veterans from past wars, especially from Vietnam, are the best role models and advocates for the current crop of Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s always a shame to hear when they take their own life. Thank you for his service.

  17. Tammy Duckworth    

    Hidden wounds are just as injurious as the ones we can see. If it’s OK to get help for wounds from shrapnel or a bullet under combat, then please seek help for the combat wounds that are less visible. Drop in at your nearest Vet Center http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/ or go to: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

  18. cara mandart    

    my dad (Marines served Vietnam era) has PTSD and is 100% service connected disabled. This is SUCH a meaningful post and I thank you!!

    1. Alex Horton    

      You’re welcome Cara, thank your father for his service for us. My uncle was a Marine in Vietnam too.

  19. Dean    

    It would be nice if the VA understood ‘Continuity of Care’. After working with a Psychiatrist for more than a year, he left the VA for private practice in the same area. This left one Psych overloaded. I asked for out sourced care with my former Psych…..denied. Instead I got to see a ‘new guy’ and start over. I dont feel this is right. I dont want to spend time establishing a whole new re pore with someone else. I feel I was making progress…..now to Start over. WTF!!!

    1. Alex Horton    

      Dean, you raise an excellent point. I’ll forward your comment onto the Health Administration so they can get it to the right person. Thanks.

  20. AlphaDog    

    Yoo bad they have to battle an ungrateful government for what was promised them. Instead seems the government can find the funding it needs for the illegal aliens stealing across our borders.

  21. Tammy    

    Our Suicide Prevention web site can be found at – http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Veterans/Default.aspx

    Click on the green button to chat with someone on line right now. We are here to listen.

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