Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Thomas Brennan Headshot

The Military's Stigma Over Medical Care

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I waited to re-enlist in the Marine Corps at the Memorial outside of Camp Johnson, North Carolina. Hundreds of people stood for the national anthem. I recited the Oath of Enlistment beside an I-Beam from the World Trade Center.

I wanted to use my experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to become a combat instructor, to continue deploying on overseas missions, to work alongside fellow Marines and to be a leader. The day was meant to mark the beginning of the next stage of my military career, but the truth was my military career was already over.

I was carrying a weight on my shoulders from my deployments that I couldn't get rid of. I wouldn't articulate it then, but multiple doctors visits later, my career ended with a simple list of diagnoses: anxiety, depression, bipolar II disorder, and of course, the big kicker, severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I had to make a choice between my career and my health, and I chose the latter. It was the toughest decision I ever made. As I transitioned from my commitment to my men to my commitment to my therapy appointments, I feared looks from my superiors and peers. I feared being viewed as less of a Marine. Having witnessed prior instances of stigma before, back when I had been healthy and it was the "others" who were sick, I knew what happened to those who sought help. They were shunned, they were called weak, and now here I was, one of "them."

At times, I feel like a failure, but I believe there's a lesson in all of this, and it's a lesson that I need to share with my other fellow service members suffering with invisible injuries. Through accepting help, I realize I'm serving my men the best way that I can. On the days I doubt my path, I think of the bouts of disassociation, the nightmares and the tears. I think about the constant paranoia and anxiety, the fear of where I walk. I'm serving my Marines in the best way that I can by keeping them from danger. I know through my treatment I can get better, but had my ailments led to an injury or death out on the battlefield, I would be unrecoverable.

These days, as I wait for my disability rating, I still sometimes doubt I chose the right path. My sessions are intense, revealing hidden things from within the depths of my mind. Guilt. Shame. Weakness. Enough pain that I know I won't be able to attend their homecoming, despite how badly I wish I could. I am too afraid of what they will think of me. My men deserve to remember me for who I was, not as a patient, but I hope they know I haven't let them down.

My transition from military to civilian life will not be without challenges. As a young Marine I was taught to always do right by my subordinates. It took me a long time apply this mantra to my situation and I am lucky nobody got hurt along the way. We serve for the man and woman to our right and left and we must remember that the easiest choice is not always the right choice. Our actions as leaders define our character and I hope that by helping myself, I have also helped those around me. I hope that others will learn from my journey and do right by their troops.

Because of my therapy I may no longer be an active duty Marine, but I will be a better husband and father to my family. I may sometimes doubt the path I follow today, but I trust with time I will accept it was the right path to take.