ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
And we're going to take some time now to hear how hard it can be to come home from war. We're going to meet a young man and his wife, who are struggling to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Peter Mohan served in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and later, with the North Carolina National Guard. He met Anna, who later became his wife, just before the first deployment. He came home, and less than a year later, he left for Iraq.
When he returned the second time, he was different. The couple has moved from North Carolina to Massachusetts to be closer to family. Here in their own words is their story.
Mr. PETER MOHAN: We met at a friend of mine's wedding.
Ms. ANNA MOHAN: I'm sitting on the bride side of the aisle and he's sitting on the groom side of the aisle, and he was this big, huge guy. And his face was all red, and he was crying during the vows. I sort of pointed him out to my friend and said, look at the big, cute guy crying.
Mr. MOHAN: And I was surprised that Anna wanted to talk to me.
Ms. MOHAN: Peter was fun, loud, gregarious around other Army guys. Alone, he was very sensitive, very sweet.
Mr. MOHAN: You know, I was a typical 22-year-old guy in the Army. I was - I like to go out and I like to party real hard and I like to shoot guns and I like to jump out of planes, you know.
Ms. MOHAN: I fell in love with him very quickly. And we went down to the courthouse and got married just two days after we got the call that he was going to Iraq. We were both worried he wouldn't come home.
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Ms. MOHAN: In his letters, he seemed like - towards the beginning, especially before June 24th, between the big battle - that he was more, sort of, like okay, we're here to help the Iraqi people. We can do this. You know, there are good reasons that we're here.
Mr. MOHAN: Ah, June 24th, 2004. It was the heaviest day of ground fighting since the mission accomplished banner was flown in from the - behind our president. It was a bad day. I lost a close friend of mine. And even our commanding officer - our company commander got killed that day.
Ms. MOHAN: But after that day, his letters started to question more and more -what are we doing here? Why did my buddy die? Why did my commander die?
Mr. MOHAN: You know, we have ceremonies for people when, you know, when people get killed. You might actually have tears well up a little bit, you know, and then you'll laugh with your buddies later - I almost cried there. When you're in a place where death is around every corner, you have to callous your emotions and disconnect. Otherwise, you probably wouldn't be able to do it.
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Ms. MOHAN: The day that they got back and were to be released - they had to fill out a checklist, saying, do you have any of these symptoms? Do you have nightmares? Do you have thoughts of hurting other people?
Mr. MOHAN: Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you feeling suicidal? Are you feeling homicidal? Are you - and it's yes or no. So, naturally, when you get home, you just want to go back to the house and get all of this crap behind you. So you rundown the no side and you just check them all no.
Ms. MOHAN: Well, at first, you know, it was wonderful. He was home. He was good. You know, we were excited. It quickly became apparent, though, that something was going on. After the first week or two, he was very emotionally distant, and he was spending most of the day at home doing nothing.
Mr. MOHAN: I would check the locks four or five times and check the perimeter of the house inside, and always kept the blinds closed. I was doing the things that you do to stay alive in a combat zone.
Ms. MOHAN: He was trying to get out of doing anything. He was trying to get out of going out and doing - enjoying life, going to the movies or going out. But I didn't really recognize that yet.
Mr. MOHAN: It is simple things that I just, eventually, I just couldn't do. I couldn't write a check, couldn't make a phone call and I didn't know why.
Ms. MOHAN: Eventually, I dragged him to the local vet center. I said you have to do it. You have to do it. I'm going crazy. We have to go see someone. So they made an appointment for him at the VA clinic. And of course, he didn't make it to the appointment. He rescheduled it, but didn't make it to that either.
Mr. MOHAN: In a lot of ways, I was afraid of stigma, of saying that I've got post-traumatic stress disorder. And I felt like it was kind of a weakness.
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Ms. MOHAN: I came home one day from work and Peter was so drunk that he could barely stand up. At the time, he was actually suicidal. And he said he would go out on his motorcycle and speed as fast as it could go, hoping that a cop would pull him over and that somehow, he could get the cop to shoot him.
Mr. MOHAN: Riding around, you know, at 100-plus miles an hour. I'm putting my feet up on the handlebars, standing up on the seat, things that a normal person would not do.
Ms. MOHAN: He couldn't be left alone. At first, I just took sick days, but eventually, I took a leave of absence. We couldn't afford our house. Everything was falling apart. So my parents offered that we could come up here and live in with them, and we knew there was a VA just half an hour away.
Mr. MOHAN: Oh, I felt like a failure, you know. Like, gee, how can I have let things go this far, out of control?
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Mr. MOHAN: I just recently completed a 24 day program in-patient at the Northampton VA for post-traumatic stress. They teach you how to step back in your mind and not get wrapped up in the thoughts, and leaving these thoughts, kind of get to control your life and behavior.
Ms. MOHAN: I find it all very frightening and overwhelming, because it's hard to figure out what their plan is at the VA. I'd like to know what I'm supposed to do. Am I supposed to get him out of that room when he goes in there? Am I supposed to say, come on, you have to go out, we need to go do things? Or am I supposed to let him be? Am I supposed to be, okay, he needs to be alone right now? Nobody seems to be able to answer that question for me.
Mr. MOHAN: I believe it is hard for her, you know. I'm getting all of this help and support, and she's standing by me and, you know, yet, she still has her own issues and concerns. And I feel almost like she's putting her life on the back burner while I'm recovering from this.
Ms. MOHAN: There is a spouse group down at the Vet center in Springfield, and -a support group, and I went there a couple of times. But the wives are mostly Vietnam veterans or wives of Vietnam veterans, and I found it very difficult. It's very scary to think these people are still going through this 20 years down the road, and is this is what's going to happen to us.
Mr. MOHAN: This is probably the worst thing that we're going to have to face in our lives together. And so far, we're doing it, which is encouraging.
Ms. MOHAN: Sometimes, I can still see underneath the person that I married. I do still believe that he has a beautiful, strong soul filled with love and compassion. But he's very, very different, and it's very hard to be emotionally intimate with each other right now. And I'm praying and hoping that once we get farther in the healing, more of him will start to reemerge.
Mr. MOHAN: I think, deep down inside, yes, I'm definitely changed. I'm definitely not the same as I was. But despite all the physiological and emotional and all these things that have changed, I think at the core, I'm still who I am.
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SIEGEL: Peter and Anna Mohan. They told their story to producer Karen Brown of member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Since then, Peter is back in treatment at the VA hospital. Anna has put off her job search to care for him. You can see a picture of the couple at our Web site, npr.org.
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