After our story ran Wednesday night (see below), Zach sent reporter Alicia Richards a letter that he wanted to share with those of you who took the time to send him notes of encouragement. Here is Zach's letter:
"First and foremost, I want to thank everyone for their support and messages. I didn't volunteer my story for me. I stood up to tell my story for others who are afraid to.
In the military, you live in a warrior society and are expected to carry that mentality. Any forms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) and depression is often seen, most often internally, as a weakness. We are instilled to never show weakness. That mentality is almost impossible to turn off when we return to the civilian life. Because of this, many of us are afraid to admit we have a problem. Part of this is due to the lack of education the civilian population has on combat PTSD. I say combat PTSD because it is a different kind of PTSD. It is the same disease, but the symptoms, flashbacks, and trigger responses are drastically different. The most common trigger that I've seen from veterans who suffer from PTSD is fireworks. Most of America sees it as a time to hang out with family and friends to have a good time. Most combat PTSD sufferers dread the sound of fireworks because it brings them back to a place where they don't want to be.
A lot of combat PTSD sufferers find the simplest emotions hard to convey. Because of this, friendships and romantic relationships often fail. It's not because we don't want to show emotion. It's because, often times, we don't know how to. That kind of understanding from a partner is very hard to come by.
Veterans with PTSD find conventional employment very challenging. Most homeless vets suffer from PTSD. Their PTSD caused them to shelter themselves from the outside world, resulting in joblessness, which could turn into homelessness. I know quite a few veterans who can't perform a normal nine to five job because of the warrior mentality. It is a mentality that is, for the most part, unexplainable to someone who doesn't have any ties to the military. That is why seeking help and support is sometimes difficult. Counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists who support our veterans in the VA and other military/veteran support systems have never served in the military.
As the saying goes: "Unless you've been there, you have no idea". While I do hate that saying, I do have to say that it is completely true. Many veterans don't know how to relate their experiences to people who have never worn the uniform of their country. Most of it just isn't really relatable. I talk and vent with many of my friend with whom I've had the great privilege to serve beside because they know. Often times, we can just look at each other and know. The slightest glances towards each other will often speak more than any word could.
As civilians, I don't expect most of you to truly grasp what I previously wrote. Instead, I want to say the following so you can learn:
We do not ask for your pity. We do not ask for your charity. We hate having triggers and flashbacks in public because we see the looks we get when it happens. Those looks feel more demeaning than the episode we had. What we ask of you is to be understanding of our needs. We ask that if we want some alone time, please give it to us. We often don't show emotion, but we don't want you to hide yours. We want you to be understanding that we won't share our stories with you. It is not to hide it from you. It is to protect you from the horrors that we saw. We see ourselves as the protectors and we want to keep doing that.
Lastly, I'll finish with this. If you see a veteran who needs help, help them. I don't mean the "here's a number to call" help either. Be proactive to ensure that the person gets the help they need. That small difference could end up saving that person's life."
The suicide rate of our veterans is something the Veterans Administration is very concerned about. One statistic places the daily suicide rate at 22. It's especially bad among male veterans younger than thirty.
Twenty-nine-year-old Marine Corporal Zach Davis of Harrisburg told us that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, depression and insomnia.
When Zach was a boy, he never envisioned his adulthood being dominated by mental anguish. As a football player at Central Dauphin High School, he knew he wanted to be one of the few, the proud—and he did become a marine.
Three months after he signed up, terrorists struck the World Trade Center. Three years to the day after that, Zach landed in Iraq.
The work was grueling. He was part of the Allied takeover of Fallujah.
The work was traumatic.
One day, he killed a man who appeared ready to attack his convoy.
He was told "good job." But to this day, Zach can't stop thinking about it.
Maybe because it happened on his twentieth birthday.
Zach says, "I have seen things and have done things that I wish no man would ever have to do. There are days where I shut myself off, don't talk to anybody, don't leave my house at all."
He takes medicine that he feels keeps him from taking his own life. And he has received therapy through the VA.
Chris Hoffman is Chief of Social Work at the Lebanon VA, which is the Midstate's VA headquarters. He says, "It naturally pains me deeply when I think about the suffering they endure."
But, he says, the VA has a full staff of 55 therapists ready to help—more than ever before.
"Since I started at the VA I've seen continual improvements. Each year we initiate new services to reach out to our veteran population."
Chris would like to see more veterans like Zach take full advantage of all the help available.
In the meantime Zach says, "I don't want sympathy, I don't want pity. I signed up for it, I knew what I was getting into, and it's one of those crosses I have to bear."
He sighs and says, "I just want to be me again."
Are you a veteran in need of help? Call the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. A person will answer that line 24 hours a day.
Are you someone concerned about a veteran? You can learn how to help them by calling 1-888-823-7458. You'll be connected with an organization called Coaching into Care. They are recommended by the VA.
Tuesday, August 19 2014 1:03 PM EDT2014-08-19 17:03:38 GMT
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