During the Iraq War, the news was one of the few resources that civilians had in order to track U.S. troops’ activities overseas. However, this point of view, with only brief video clips and sparse snapshots flashing across TV screens, was the only peek into the lives of these troops as they fought for their country. One brave soldier decided that these detached images weren’t enough, and he made a conscious choice to share the real and raw events of war with the public.

A former Marine by the name of Anthony Swofford wrote a memoir called Jarhead that surrounded his entire draft, training, deployment, and return during Operation: Desert Storm. (“Jarhead” is another term for a Marine.) The book was later converted into a movie in 2005 under the same name.

Swofford’s tale was brutally honest yet comical where he saw fit. Even though he was among a warzone, there were plenty of scenes where he and his fellow 20-something comrades were simply expressing themselves as any young adult male would. It is precisely this boyish charm that captures the hearts of audiences, and also serves as a starting point to the mental decline of all of the soldiers as the story progresses.

Tensions build between the troops while they are stationed in Iraq. All of them are scared (though none will admit it,) and all believe that there are out to “win this thing”. In short, every member thought he was invincible, and it turned into a competition as to who would kill the most opposing troops.

However, reality quickly set in as they endured over 100-degree temperatures, homesickness, relationships trouble with their girlfriends back home (a source of both comedy and tragedy), and developing signs of mental illness. In fact, by the story’s end, most of the troops developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Military suicide is even later addressed in the story—and all of these elements really shine a light onto the darkest aspects of war that the public rarely, if ever, gets to see.

In reality, Swofford’s story is incredibly accurate in terms of what actually occurs in the military. The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively. The troops (and Swofford himself) were experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia, rage, guilt, depression, and many other symptoms that, little by little, broke each and every troop until he turned against his comrades in a fit of being “out of his mind”.
Plus, roughly 22 veterans a day are committing suicide, and the large majority of the civilian public is aware of such a startling statistic. Fortunately, even Swofford brings that tragic element of war to light in his story, which can easily be called a masterpiece.

Coincidentally, none of the veterans in Swofford’s story who suffered from mental illness like PTSD sought clinical help. The military actually discourages soldiers from seeking mental help through the VA because doing so seems “weak,” and frowned upon. By the same token, the VA has repeatedly proven itself inadequate when it comes to treating ailing veterans. As a result, other rehabilitating organizations have stepped forward in their place, and could have greatly assisted the soldiers in Swofford’s story, and even Swofford himself.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.