How One Army Town Copes with PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder can terrorize veterans, their families and military communities. How one Navy veteran — and one Army town — is coping

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Ashley Gilbertson / VII Network for TIME

A memorial at a corner in Colorado Springs. The site is where Private First Class Jomar Falu-Vives, who served one tour in Iraq, allegedly shot and killed two men

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When Sergeant Clint Hollibaugh was transferring from Iraq back to Oklahoma, he sat through the obligatory briefings on PTSD with one eye on the clock. "It was the usual stuff: 'Don't kick the cat, don't kill your wife,' " he says. Like many service members, he feared that any confession of mental trauma would delay his homecoming. However mixed up Hollibaugh felt after being the sole survivor of an ambush, he believed that it was nothing that could not be fixed by a burger, a few beers and sex. "Besides," he says, "I thought I was fine." But several weeks later, Hollibaugh woke up outside his house; he had been patrolling the yard while sleepwalking. He kept a gun in every room of his house, one of them under the mattress. When his neighbor started firing off a shotgun, Hollibaugh instinctively leaped off the porch and began crawling through the grass while his wife, since divorced, looked on in horror and pity. "It took my family to say, 'Hey, you're messed up. Fix it.' " After drugs for sleep and with therapy, Hollibaugh began to feel better.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for treating PTSD, but studies show that stricken veterans who have a strong social network of family and friends tend to bounce back faster. For Waddell, the treatment has been a combination of techniques designed to calm the storm of his wartime memories and his emotional responses to them. It involves everything from drugs to cathartic sessions of therapy to mapping his brain waves. It also helps for Waddell to vocalize his traumatic experiences, so he and Marshéle often speak to church and community groups about PTSD. It can take years before the symptoms start to ebb.

And, says Marshéle, "you need an environment where the warrior can be vulnerable." Typically, that's not a military base. Waddell speaks of what he terms a "break in the covenant" between those who volunteer to fight and the society that sent them into battle and then forgot about them. "It's not enough to give soldiers free tickets to NASCAR races," he says. "It has to be something more, a deeper way of honoring the sacrifices these men and women have made."

The "covenant" is slowly being restored in Colorado Springs. Members of the clergy keep an eye out for troubled military families in their congregations. Neighbors help with babysitting so that a couple can get reacquainted after a long tour of duty. Nonprofit groups have stepped in to give veterans and active-duty service members the kind of confidential help they feel they cannot get on base. On the assumption that a soldier is more likely to reveal buried traumas to someone who has also experienced combat, the Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group has lined up vets who can steer the combat-bruised troops through their personal troubles and the VA's cavernous bureaucracy.

For Colonel George Brandt, behavioral-health chief at the base hospital, a cure means "being able to get on the floor and play with your kids. Then you know you're home." For Waddell, it may take longer. He says, "Even though Marshéle and I are still in a dark valley, we haven't built our house here. We're just passing through."

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