Iraq Soldier Ponders Life with PTSD

When commentator Jesus Bocanegra came back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, the Veterans Affairs Department provided counseling. But all the other men in his group therapy were much older Vietnam vets. Now, Bocanegra worries he may have PTSD decades after his service ended.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now a story from one American soldier in the Iraq War. Twenty-three-year-old Jesus Bocanegra spent four and a half years in the Army, including a year as a cavalry scout in Iraq. He's now out of the military and living with his family in the town of Elsa in south Texas, but the war is still with him, so much so that he's been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

JESUS BOCANEGRA:

In the combat zone, you're going a hundred miles an hour, you know. You're like a little radar, you know, turning everywhere. That's really hard, coming from a combat environment to a civil-life environment. To me, when I was coming out of the military and we actually sat down on the plane and they told us, `You fill out this paper sheet.' And on that paper sheet, I circled that little thing where it said, `Do you want to talk to someone else about your mental health?' And I thought, `You know what? Maybe this is my outcry for help.'

Two weeks later nothing happened, and now I'm out of the military, somebody else's problem. And back home was--you know, you have all the barbecues, and it's--you're sort of just numbed out. You know, you don't have no--your feelings are numb. It's just like you're watching a black-and-white TV. You're just not there. My mom noticed that I was all nervous and stuff, sweating. And, you know, it was the middle of the night; I couldn't sleep or nothing. And I was like, `You know, Mom, I need help. You know, I need to see someone, a counselor or something.'

And that night I was like, you know, I felt so bad that I had to go to an ER room, emergency room, and, you know, to explain it to a doctor. You know, `What are you going through?' It was like, `Well, you know, it's--I can't explain it,' you know, and this guy was like, `Well, here, take this medicine, anti-anxiety, and go see the VA tomorrow.' So, you know, the thing there is the majority of the groups are Vietnam veteran groups, barely getting help. So when you're talking in that environment, a vet center environment, I was more holding back 'cause it's just not the same to sit and talk to a 20-year-old when you sit and talk to a 60-, 70-year-old. And then so there's no offense to say to them, you know, to--what they did in their Vietnam War, but it's just not the same.

I withdrew from the PTSD program after I sat down with the counselor and told her, `Look, this program is not helping me at all. This program is actually making me think that for me, as a 20-year-old, to look at a 70-year-old and he says he's had PTSD for 50 years--so my PTSD is not going to go away.' I wish I would have stayed in the military 'cause when I was with my unit, it was sort of a bubble. Nothing--What is it called?--the outside world does not get in.

The thing--the hard part is when you go home and there's no 10, 20 guys you can talk to in the morning and, you know, PT formation and--that's the difficult part. When you wake up in your own bed and you don't have that guy you--or those people you talk to every day--and now that I do have a flashback, I think--I sit down and, you know, I analyze myself 'cause, you know, it's--these things are going to be with you forever, for the rest of your life, and it's just the way you control them. I've been able to control my PTSD to the point of it's not overtaking my life, and it--I have it in control.

SIEGEL: Jesus Bocanegra's story was produced by Youth Radio.

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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