MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Symptoms of war can appear long after a soldier returns home. That's one of the challenges of PTSD. Today, we're considering what that means for members of the National Guard. Timing matters. When soldiers seek help can sometimes determine the kind of care they receive. Eileen Pace with Texas Public Radio has this story of one National Guard soldier and the moment he realized that Iraq still haunted him.
EILEEN PACE, BYLINE: It was December 2007. Darryl Davidson was driving down a busy San Antonio street. Something flew off the truck in front of him. He thinks it might have been a car battery, he still isnât sure.
DARRYL DAVIDSON: I was in some sort of a flashback. I was there for probably 20 or 30 minutes.
PACE: In that moment, Davidson says he imagined in IED, a homemade bomb such as the ones he'd seen in Iraq, and his survival instinct kicked in.
D. DAVIDSON: So I swerved over four lanes of traffic and crunched my truck - well, actually, I didn't crunch the truck, but I busted a tire on the curve and ended up in a field.
PACE: And he took cover. He says when police arrived, he told them to take cover too.
D. DAVIDSON: You know, as far as I could tell, we were under fire. I just kept telling officers they need to get down. They needed to take cover. You know, we're under fire. And I guess one of the officers was a vet and understood what was going on and kind of talked me - talked me down.
PACE: That incident happened a year and a half after Davidson returned from Iraq. Heâd served at Balad Air Force Base, north of Baghdad, a place shelled so often, the troops called it Mortaritaville.
Davidson was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. Thatâs common among soldiers in the National Guard. Dr. Alan Peterson, head of a Pentagon panel on PTSD, says one reason Guard members are at risk is they have fewer supports, like training, when they come home.
ALAN PETERSON: If it's just one weekend a month, it's very minimal compared to the active forces that would come back and would be around their peers that may have suffered similar things.
PACE: Peterson also served in Iraq. He says the guard is working to help its soldiers.
PETERSON: They try to do the same types of things that the regular active forces do. They try to support individuals while they're deployed. They try to do screenings of individuals when they come back to identify individuals that may be at risk and then try to, you know, provide whatever services may be available.
PACE: But it's easier to fall through the gaps in the Guard. Thatâs what happened to Darryl Davidson. Remember, it wasnât until 18 months after he left active duty that his PTSD symptoms appeared.
His girlfriend at the time, Maria, now his wife, had suspected something was wrong.
MARIA DAVIDSON: Not remembering who I was, making decisions that were not - that didn't make any sense. He flashed back. He won't drive.
PACE: Had he still been on active duty, the Army might've assigned him to a Wounded Warrior battalion, a unit dedicated to helping soldiers get well. But too much time had gone.
D. DAVIDSON: So because I had been off of active duty for X number of days, I no longer qualified to go to the Wounded Warrior battalion.
M. DAVIDSON: By about this much.
D. DAVIDSON: Yeah, it wasn't much. So I said, well, what do I do now? Go to the VA.
PACE: So Maria did. She went to the VA, to the Guard, other hospitals.
M. DAVIDSON: They wouldn't listen to her. They wouldn't talk to her.
M. DAVIDSON: Phone calls and got phone numbers to call other phone numbers to call other phone numbers.
PACE: Now Davidson sees doctors at the VA and takes medications for anxiety, depression, nightmares. He was honorably discharged in 2011. He'd planned to spend his days in hospitals working as a nurse, not as a patient. But his symptoms - forgetfulness, a quick temper - made all that too risky.
D. DAVIDSON: You know, if I forget which patient needs which med at what time or something like that, and if somebody dies, you know, I mean, that's a bad day happening. So I didn't feel safe, you know, putting patients at risk.
PACE: So he puts his aspirations on hold instead. For NPR News, I'm Eileen Pace.
BLOCK: That story is part of NPR's Project Back At Base. It's a collaboration of NPR and seven member stations reporting about the American military on the homefront. You can find our other stories on the National Guard at npr.org.
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