As deadly as any Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and just as difficult to discover before it detonates, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will become a primary source of America's Iraq war home front casualties.
While there have been numerous reports of violent tragedies involving soldiers who have returned from active duty in Iraq, two recent cases illustrate the pathetic medical conditions this war has created for our veterans, serving as harbingers of a far greater crisis our society will face when our troops return home in large numbers. The news accounts of Marine Staff Sergeant Travis N. Twiggs and Cody Alexander Morris of the U.S. Coast Guard are stark examples of the deadly effects PTSD can have on our soldiers, and those near them, when they detonate in our midst.
Travis N. Twiggs -- or T-Bo as his friends knew him -- was a decorated marine. He served four tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, suffering from PTSD which worsened with each tour of duty. His life ended tragically, two weeks after meeting President Bush at the White House as part of the Wounded Warriors Regiment.
According to Kellee Twiggs, his widow, he approached President Bush and said: "Sir, I've served over there many times, and I would serve for you any time."
"He [then] grabbed the president and gave him a big hug," she said.
In a sense, President Bush was for that brief moment enveloped by an IED of his own making. Had Twiggs -- a martial arts trainer -- snapped then instead of later, Cheney would have had to finish Bush's term.
But he didn't go off while meeting with Bush. That happened weeks later, when he took his own life after shooting his brother to death in a standoff with police on an Arizona Indian reservation. The two brothers had attempted to drive a car off the cliff into the Grand Canyon, Thelma and Louise style.
Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Shannan Marcak said: "They are believed to have crashed their car at the canyon's edge and walked away from the scene, witnesses said, hours before the carjacking at gunpoint."
Investigators believe, based on how the car was hung up on a tree, the men may have tried to drive off the road and into the canyon. They then hijacked a vehicle and when asked to pull over at a Border Patrol checkpoint, bolted and were chased onto the reservation where the shootings took place. Twiggs had been absent without leave since May 5.
Kellee Twiggs added: "All this violent behavior, him killing his brother, that was not my husband. If the PTSD would have been handled in a correct manner, none of this would have happened."
She said he began changing after his second tour of duty in Iraq, and worsened after he returned from his third stint there, when he lost two good friends from his platoon.
"He went and saw a physician's assistant who said that was the severest case of PTSD she'd seen in her life," said Kellee Twiggs said.
In an article he penned in The Marine Gazette Travis wrote: "I met a physician's assistant named Laurie Giertz. She had a list hanging on her wall of 10 symptoms Marines experience upon returning from combat. She asked me to read them and tell her if I had any of them. To this day I don't know why I answered her, but I told her that I had all of them... I was prescribed Zoloft for mood and Trazadone for sleep."
As if one such instance is not evidence enough of this imminent and disturbing situation, we also have the recent case of Cody Alexander Morris. Morris, a native of Bardwell, KY, was allowed to join the Coast Guard two weeks prior to his 17th birthday, with his mother's consent. Returning from Iraq at 19, he spent his days with his best friend, roommate and fellow guardsman Casey Lee Hall, 18, and Morris' 16-year-old cousin Corey Adams. The trio spent their days smoking weed and drinking, often playing a bizarre game learned from his fellow Kentucky Guardsmen in Iraq -- Do You Trust Me -- wherein an empty pistol would be pointed at one another and the trigger pulled. They formed a clique, Crazy White Boys, and had the initials CWB tattooed on their necks as a symbol of solidarity.
"It fit us pretty good," Morris said recently, "'cause we are crazy white boys. We were potheads -- we'd just drink and smoke... and play-fight."
Unfortunately, fun-and-games went out the window when Hall was shot between the eyes on October 18. Morris was holding the gun.
The twelve members of the jury eventually found Morris guilty of reckless homicide and tampering with evidence, charges carrying prison sentences of one to five years each.
Sadly, these tragic stories are but two of the thousands that will certainly unfold when our young soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is imperative that we begin now to prepare for their reintroduction to families, friends and society at large. The horrors of Bethesda Medical Center exposed last year and that exist at Veterans Hospitals nationwide show that we have much work ahead of us if we hope to adequately address their psychological and rehabilitative needs upon their return.
After having enjoyed a restful and reflective Memorial Day weekend, consider taking the time to let your congressional representatives know that we are thinking about our veterans -- both those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who, if not compassionately treated, can become America's own scattered Improvised Explosive Devices, awaiting detonation in our midst.