A mortuary services soldier came home angry and suicidal, having processed the dead faces and body parts of numerous service members. A well-loved first sergeant killed himself in front of his men. A platoon that had just lost several soldiers refused to go back on patrol, fearful that their rage would lead to more death.
These are the faces of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in today's military and a recent investigative project from a recipient of a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Army Times medical science reporter and fellow Kelly Kennedy spent a year exploring PTSD in military personnel. Her work is being published in a yearlong series in her newspaper as well as in a book, "They Fought for Each Other," released in March by St. Martin's Press.
Kennedy, an Army veteran who served in Somalia in the early 1990s, has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Colorado. In 2007, she embedded with troops during a 13-week trip to Iraq. She went to the war-torn country hoping to learn more about PTSD. Little did she realize how much she would learn about herself and her subject.
She recorded how the soldiers dealt with stress. One company in particular lost 14 men and mutinied.
"It was a pretty traumatic tour for them. The project grew out of that. What is PTSD? What does it look like? What does it feel like?" she said.
During the course of her fellowship, Kennedy was dealing with her own stress and anxiety. But like the steely soldiers she interviewed, she dismissed the symptoms.
"I was blowing through stop signs. It took me three hours to read the newspaper, and for about a year I was really sad," she said. "Right in the middle of that, I got the Carter fellowship. It helped me understand and learn about the guys and what they were dealing with. And it helped put me back together. I didn't know as much about PTSD as I thought I did."
Kennedy said the yearlong series and intensive time commitment probably wouldn't have happened without the fellowship, which is sponsored by the Carter Center's Mental Health Program.
"The fellowship gave me the kick in the pants," she said.
Kennedy was one of 10 fellowship recipients in 2008. The journalists report on a mental health topic of their choosing during their fellowship year and receive training and mentoring about issues in mental health. Since 1997, The Carter Center has awarded more than 100 fellowships. The goal of the program is to decrease stigma and increase public understanding of mental illnesses through accurate reporting in the media.
Projects from Kennedy and all previous journalism fellows are archived on the Carter Center's Web site, www.cartercenter.org.
Fellow Kelly Kennedy's newspaper series on veterans facing post-traumatic stress disorder also included a Web site.
At a meeting of Rosalynn Carter journalism fellows, Kelly Kennedy discusses her work with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan facing post-traumatic stress disorder