Post-Traumatic Stress turns an area family upside down
There's a Tyler Peters before Operation Iraqi Freedom and a Tyler Peters after it.
The two vary greatly.
The Army Reservist's parents, Ron and Julie Peters, Spencer, describe the 23-year-old as a Chicago Bulls and Jeff Gordon fan, a Boy Scout, and as a son who was "never in trouble" before serving his country abroad.
He describes himself as being "very quiet and shy."
"I never even had a brush with the law - not even a traffic ticket," Peters recalled recently. "(I was an) ask-me-and-I'll-do-it type of person. And, I wasn't really mean to anybody."
He enlisted for an eight-year term in the Iowa Army National Guard's 2168th Transportation Company in June 2001. However, when an Iowa colonel asked for volunteers to serve abroad with the 1133rd Transportation Company of Mason City during a Christmas 2003 Christmas party, Peters was one of the first to step forward.
He was deployed to the Middle East three months later. During their "367 days with boots on ground," Peters' unit served in some of the "hottest" spots in and between Kuwait and Iraq, and in doing so, witnessed horrifying things.
Following his return home, Peters, visibly "more grown up, independent and aggressive," found himself having trouble holding a job. He was withdrawing from family, losing interest in things, experiencing a lack of concentration and having problems controlling his anger. The veteran also experiences bouts of crying, shaking, insomnia and of smelling blood.
"Before, I could go into the Mall of America, and the people wouldn't bother me," he said. "But now, it's like I can't even stand being in Wal-Mart for 20 minutes" without experiencing anger at others.
"What are you doing in my way?' That's the way I am now. I've gotten a lot better with it, but the crowds still, to a point, bother me."
Crowds he experiences today can result in Peters flashing back to driving truck missions in Baghdad or elsewhere where crowds of potential hostiles might surround them.
"The anger, obviously, is what kept me going over there," he explained. "...So, you bring that mindset back with you - that 'I'm in control and you're going to do what I want to do now' - and people don't understand."
Since returning to northwest Iowa, Peters has had several angry run-ins with the law. He says he "blacked out" during every such incident.
"They always say it starts over something stupid, and it did," Peters explained. Most recently, he served jail time for a incident that began with Christmas shopping.
Searching for answers regarding what was happening with their son, the Peters turned to many sources for insight.
A neighbor passed along the name of a man she had seen discuss Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on television. Ron Peters followed up with a telephone call. He learned about the disorder, and the importance of providing support for the victim. "And, he said if we didn't, it would progress and get out of hand. That's where we started to learn about the PTSD."
As their son continued getting into trouble, a local Vietnam veteran stepped in.
"I hear you got a little problem," Ron remembers him saying. "...He then said, 'Get your butt up to the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs), and don't be screwing around. Do it tomorrow.'"
The father drove his son to the Sioux Falls VA Medical Center, where Tyler was diagnosed with combat-related PTSD.
"I knew there was something going on from day one - but I did not know what and I did not know the severity of it. But, I did know there was something, that this wasn't Tyler," his father said upon hearing the diagnosis.
Peters is not alone in his diagnosis of PTSD. According to a 2004 study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine," as many as 17 percent of the men and women who served in Iraq have shown signs of PTSD, depression or anxiety. Less than 4 percent have come forward for help.
Today, Peters appears to be one of the "lucky" ones. He's incorporating visits with a therapist, support from family and friends, and medication into his schedule.
"If you don't have any support whatsoever, the medication isn't going to do it for you," Peters said. He hopes to be able to slowly go off the medicine to handle life on his own.
In the meantime, he has recently graduated from community college and landed a full-time job. He has come to grips with his anger and legal problems. "I'm not saying that the PTSD was an excuse for the assaults, because it wasn't. But, it was a contributing factor."
At 23, he says he can now see progress being made.
"I'm not ready to go out on my own," he admitted. "The I-don't-care and that-doesn't-apply-to-me moods, I still get those every now and then. I'll still have bouts or days where I get downright pi***d, and I'll tear out of here in my car or say something stupid, walk out the door and not come back for three or four hours because I'm mad. I still do that to a point, but it's not nearly as bad as it was."
The family is grateful, but believe there is still a great need for understanding about PTSD. "We'd like to have more community awareness," Julie Peters said. "Not only for him, but for anybody coming home from war."
"He's getting better, much better," Ron added. "Tyler's strong and a very honest kid. And, one thing about it, he's showing his strength - because he can fight. He's fighting this stuff."