Veterans battle their service-related injuries, both physical and emotional, in a variety of ways. A Marine veteran, and now graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, is tackling his PTSD head on by training himself to help other veterans do the same.
37-year-old Jason Simmons, served eight years in the Marine Corps, much of it in counter intelligence and human intelligence. His first real-world encounter was the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, the terrorist attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
"She was still sitting there, gaping hole in the side,” he recounted as one of the first security teams to arrive at the Cole to set up the initial security perimeter.
Several tours of Iraq would follow. Tours that included dodging sniper fire, watching SCUD missiles fly overhead. But he says one firefight in particular with Saddam Hussein's special forces is one he simply can't forget.
"To this day I don't know if it was intentional on their part, but there were civilians in the crossfire. They [Iraqi soldiers] were firing through them and we had to return fire.”
"There's a picture of one of our corpsmen, cradling a little girl,” he said. "It was an Iraqi family - mom, dad, two little kids. Don't know what happened to her. Most of them died though."
"So yeah that was the worst,” he said, not knowing whose gunfire killed whom.
So, what does a Marine diagnosed with PTSD do with his life after that? In Simmons case he arms himself for his next battle. Which is why you might find him in the library at UT Arlington where he just finished his Master’s degree in Social Work with an emphasis in mental health and substance abuse. He wants to go back to the military as a counselor. Because who better to help a soldier struggling with a return to civilian life than one who's already walked the same path.
"It's foreign to them again,” he said of a veteran returning to life as a civilian. “And they have to adjust and sometimes that adjustment can be exceedingly difficult."
Now, this Marine who used to work behind a gun, quotes influences like psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who taught that we all need to find "meaning" - to find a reason to keep living.
"Every experience you go through, good or bad, is what makes up who you are. So, what you choose to do with it is up to you."
Now this Marine, a husband and father of three armed with a Master’s degree, is on the road to becoming a PTSD counselor – choosing to keep fighting for himself, and for any other veteran whose burden is too heavy to carry alone.
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