Hidden wounds of war: Part 2

By KBJR News 1

November 5, 2013 Updated Nov 6, 2013 at 12:02 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - For John Marshall of Duluth just stepping outside on any given day can be a major challenge.

"I am having panic and anxiety attacks," said John Marshall.

Marshall is a gulf war veteran. He says he struggles to get the images of war out of his mind.

"There was destroyed vehicles. Burning vehicles. Fire everywhere and the burned corpses; the carnage is surreal. Dante's Inferno couldn't even make a parallel to what we are experiencing."

It was 1989 and Marshall and his unit had been sent to take in a group of surrendering Iraqis but communications got messed up and Marshall's unit came under heavy fire from other American soldiers.

"We took friendly tank fire. The blast knocked me down and kind of concussed me and things just started going crazy," Marshall said.

Stunned by the blast Marshall didn't know what to do.

"Out of the corner of my eye I see this Iraqi running and I turn and shoot and finally fire. The guy was unarmed and I didn't say anything to anybody for a long time," he said.

Marshall was grievously wounded in that assault with shrapnel in his back. He never returned to combat.

"That one really bothered me. You can justify killing the enemy but I could see the fear in his eyes."

John Marshall came back from war a changed man. Always a physically strong person he found himself having nightmares and panic attacks.

"I thought I was crazy and didn't want anyone to know," he said.

Marshall was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, joining thousands of other returning gulf war vets with stress disorders.

"We can say that we have seen a pretty significant increase with the veterans coming in, seeking treatment for PTSD," said Reggie Worlds with the Department of Veteran Affairs.

In fact a recent study, commissioned by the Department of Defense found up to 20 percent of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars come back with PTSD.

"We have a number of veterans who are suffering immensely in regards to mental health issues, to include the PTSD, anxiety, depression," said Jon Retzer with the Veterans Affairs Region Office in Minneapolis.

And studies show, in many cases, the disorder is getting worse instead of better with the passage of time.

"In a lot of cases, the veterans are showing that there conditions are getting worse, which does quantify the need to support that," said Retzer.

In fact that need for support is so great the Veterans Administration is struggling to keep up with the cost. U-S Senator Amy Klobuchar says something has to be done about that.

"These brave men and women, that basically put themselves on the line for our country, when they signed up there wasn't a waiting line," said Sen. Klobuchar.

Senator Klobuchar says returning vets must get the help they need to get them back as productive citizens. She points to the Department of Defense study that shows a significant impact on the earning ability of a veteran suffering from PTSD.

"It's harder for them to get a job. Their unemployment rate is higher than average civilians. That's not right," the Senator said.

As the senator works on Capitol Hill to get the support these returning vets need John Marshall deals with his PTSD by supporting his military brothers and sisters by regularly volunteering as Captain of the Color Guard.

"I do what I do for those who gave it all. These are lives never lived. These men are the pillar of our freedom," Marshall said.

Many returning vets feel, while Congress has made strides in helping military men and women suffering from mental health issues, lawmakers could do more.

The Combat PTSD Act which would expand wording to include those who were involved in friendly fire incidents and those who were under constant threat of enemy attack.

That bill has failed to pass in the last two Congressional sessions.

Barbara Reyelts