“Not a day went by that I didn’t fire my weapon into battle,” he said.
Between his last two broadcasts, he was hospitalized in Germany due to post-traumatic stress. He thought about suicide at least once in Brooklyn. “When I got out of the service, everything touched me,” he said.
“It is not natural for a human being to take a life from another human being. It’s not natural to see children not as children, but as targets,” said Mr James, who is now a policy advisor for the Black Veterans Project. “I used to sleep with a gun under my pillow. The first two years of my marriage I didn’t sleep in bed; I slept on the couch to guard the door. I still carry those things with me. At 26 years old, I was 90 percent disabled. People don’t understand how many fights I’ve seen.”
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Geoffrey Easterling was an officer in the 3rd Cavalry Division in Afghanistan. He said he loved his time in the military, but the military needed better preparation for mental health.
“Just before we were sent out, I went to a service and the chaplain told us, ‘You go home and you want everyone to touch and hug you, or for everyone to leave you alone,'” he said. “That should be told to every soldier, to make sure those things are clear.”
Some veterans feel disconnected from the community and miss a purpose when they return home.
“If you tell a progressive that you served in a war, they’ll look at you like you’re a mobster and look for an explanation as to why you joined,” said Adam Weinstein, a research associate at the Quincy Institute and a Marine veteran. . “Conservatives will often praise you and put you on a bizarre pedestal. None of those interactions feel particularly authentic.”
In military families, scholars find what they call secondary traumatic distress, symptoms of anxiety arising from a soldier’s combat-related trauma and complicated feelings about family traditions that forced many to serve.
June Heston’s husband, Mike Heston, died in 2018 of cancer that doctors said was related to exposure to toxins while serving with the National Guard. “He was the soldier and if asked to go one more time,” she said. “It was hard for him, a man who loved his country and our army, to say to our son, ‘Don’t get involved’.”