The Wilderness After War: Living with PTSD

BY Lori Grinker  January 15, 2013 at 1:21 PM EDT



Photojournalist Lori Grinker profiled three former U.S. service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The video, which features Hart Viges, Mark Wilkerson and Jessica Goodell telling their stories in their own words, was produced by Grinker for the Dart Society, an association of journalists who cover violence. The audio inconsistencies are due to the differing locations and modes of interviewing, including Skype. Some of the war images from this video may be too graphic for some viewers.

Hart Viges, Mark Wilkerson and Jessica Goodell all volunteered for the military. They all chose to go to war, and they have all suffered from PTSD. But none of them fully recognized it until after they were home.

The war’s smells and sounds, and the reflexes they developed to survive in Iraq stayed with them in their home life.

People experience trauma in different ways, and in some cases their backgrounds can come into play. Viges hailed from a family of veterans who valued military service. Wilkerson, also from a military family, was deeply affected as a young child by seeing his mother being beaten. Goodell believed “real” Marines were the ones who experienced combat.

This multimedia essay is only part of their story. I first interviewed Wilkerson and Viges in 2007 and then revisited with them this fall, and I met Goodell in October.

Some updates on their lives: Viges, on disability for PTSD, is studying massage therapy with help from the GI Bill. He plans to move to Jamaica and work as a masseur upon graduation. Wilkerson went to college and currently teaches in a private school in Taiwan. Goodell wrote a memoir, “Shade It Black”, about her service in Iraq. She is studying for a doctorate in psychology and is interning with the local Veterans Administration, where she plans to counsel people with PTSD.

A recent Defense Department study shows the suicide rate in the military hit a record high in 2012 as 349 service members in all four branches took their lives. The military has launched several programs to target the problem including setting up a crisis line: 1-800-273-8255 for active-duty members and their families to call if they see mental-health issues developing.

For more on military suicides, watch Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour. This blog first appeared on the Dart Society’s website.