Army Sgt. Jerome Patterson described returning to the U.S. after two tours as a sniper in Iraq: "When I got back in '07, I never really was told by family that I had changed quite a bit and needed to go to the V.A. and get checked out." But a concerned friend contacted Joel Estey, project manager at the King County Veterans Program (KCVP), and Estey contacted Patterson. "He started taking me to the V.A. hospital and I got my claim put in and got treated for my back. I was blown up in Iraq and have a lower back injury."
Patterson now receives PTSD therapy, too, at KCVP partner agency Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation. "No charge," he told me. "For me, it’s hard to get a job. I can’t be around large numbers of people and anyway I was a recon sniper and there’s not a lot of call for that [kind of work] here. I get really anxious, on edge, always watching people. My heart starts beating fast, and I hyperventilate. I tried to kind of insert myself in more of a radical way last year and went to a concert. The pyrotechnics on the stage freaked me out."
Voters on the Aug. 16 primary will decide whether to renew the levy, which is on the ballot as King County Proposition 1. The measure calls for an additional regular property tax at a rate of up to five cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That's the same rate as approved in 2005. The cost for the owner of a house worth $340,000, the median price here in March 2011, is estimated to be $17 per year, raising $13 million annually if the levy is approved.
Since 2005, the Veterans and Human Services Levy has let KCVP extend its outreach and agency partnerships to provide veterans and their families with counseling, urgent financial aid, housing referrals, employment training, legal support, and help with securing federal benefits. During 2010, for example, the levy paid for 17,482 emergency and transitional bed nights.
The levy's funds are split 50-50 between veterans' services and general health and human services.
So, Patterson is also getting treated for a drinking problem. His recovery is progressing. "My V.A. counselor said I’m way less on edge and better with people around me." Still, a sense of isolation pervades his life. "I miss the camaraderie of being around the same kind of guys I was."
Can Patterson's PTSD be cured? "They say I’ll never get rid of it but learn to control it. Been seeing (my therapist) at Valley for about a year now, and she says I’ve come a long way. When I first got home I stayed with my mom, and she could hear me screaming from down the hall at night. I don’t think I scream in my sleep anymore, but I'm not sure."
The hours of personal attention from Estey as he shepherded Patterson to appointments, ongoing guidance for Patterson from KCVP staff, and sustained PTSD counseling would have been impossible without the King County Veterans and Human Services Levy.
Why do recently returned veterans need such personalized care? Though they're not demonized as were soldiers who fought in Vietnam, and though re-entering civilian life after fighting a war has never been easy, it's especially hard for new vets to feel at home again in America. The vast majority of Americans live their lives at a great personal and emotional distance from today's wars and warriors.
Only 1 percent of the population has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with 10-11 percent during World War II and the Vietnam conflict, when nine out of ten Americans personally knew at least one member of the armed forces involved. My uncle, leaving the Army to return home to New York in 1945, could be confident of running into veterans or close friends of vets when he stopped in some bar, even if they didn't talk about their service. Today, we don't even get regular news stories about our current wars, in part because they seem so shapeless and endless, making it hard for reporters to discern compelling story lines.
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