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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Medic in famous photo dies after PTSD struggle

From Army Times:

Medic in famous photo dies after PTSD struggle
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jul 8, 2008 6:35:20 EDT

During the first week of the war in Iraq, a Military Times photographer captured the arresting image of Army Spc. Joseph Patrick Dwyer as he raced through a battle zone clutching a tiny Iraqi boy named Ali.

The photo was hailed as a portrait of the heart behind the U.S. military machine, and Doc Dwyer’s concerned face graced the pages of newspapers across the country.

But rather than going on to enjoy the public affection for his act of heroism, he was consumed by the demons of combat stress he could not exorcise. For the medic who cared for the wounds of his combat buddies as they pushed toward Baghdad, the battle for his own health proved too much to bear.

On June 28, Dwyer, 31, died of an accidental overdose in his home in Pinehurst, N.C., after years of struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. During that time, his marriage fell apart as he spiraled into substance abuse and depression. He found himself constantly struggling with the law, even as friends, Veterans Affairs personnel and the Army tried to help him.

“Of course he was looked on as a hero here,” said Capt. Floyd Thomas of the Pinehurst Police Department. Still, “we’ve been dealing with him for over a year.”

The day he died, Dwyer apparently took pills and inhaled the fumes of an aerosol can in an act known as “huffing.” Thomas said Dwyer then called a taxi company for a ride to the hospital. When the driver arrived, “they had a conversation through the door [of Dwyer’s home],” Thomas said, but Dwyer could not let the driver in. The driver asked Dwyer if he should call the police. Dwyer said yes. When the police arrived, they asked him if they should break down the door. He again said yes.

“It was down in one kick,” Thomas said. “They loaded him up onto a gurney, and that’s when he went code.”

Dwyer served in Iraq with 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment as the unit headed into Baghdad at the beginning of the war. As they pushed forward for 21 days in March 2003, only four of those days lacked gunfire, he later told Newsday. The day before Warren Zinn snapped his photo for Military Times, Dwyer’s Humvee had been hit by a rocket.

About 500 Iraqis were killed during those days, and Dwyer watched as Ali’s family near the village of al Faysaliyah was caught in the crossfire. he grabbed the 4-year-old boy from his father and sprinted with him to safety. Zinn grabbed the moment on his camera. The image went nationwide and Dwyer found himself hailed as a hero.

He did not see it that way.

“Really, I was just one of a group of guys,” he later told Military Times. “I wasn’t standing out more than anyone else.”

According to Dwyer, he was just one of many who wanted to help after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He’d grown up in New York, and when the towers came crashing down, he went to see a recruiter.

“I knew I had to do something,” he said. Just before he left for Iraq, he got married.

But when he returned from war after three months in Iraq, he developed the classic, treatable symptoms of PTSD. like so many other combat vets, he didn’t seek help. In restaurants, he sat with his back to the wall. He avoided crowds. He stayed away from friends. He abused inhalants, he told Newsday. In 2005, he and his family talked with Newsday to try to help other service members who might need help. He talked with the paper from a psychiatric ward at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was committed after his first run-in with the police.

In October 2005, he thought there were Iraqis outside his window in El Paso, Texas. When he heard a noise, he started shooting. Three hours later, police enticed him to come out and no one was injured.

Dwyer promised to go to counseling, and promised to tell the truth. He seemed excited about his wife’s pregnancy.

But the day he died, he and his wife had not been together for at least a year, Thomas said.

And almost exactly a year ago — June 26, 2007 — Dwyer had again been committed to a psychiatric ward. Thomas said police received a 911 call that Dwyer was “having mental problems relating to PTSD.” “We responded and took him in,” Thomas said. “He’s been in and out.”

Military Times could not reach Dwyer’s family, but his wife, Matina Dwyer, told the Pinehurst Pilot, “He was a very good and caring person. He was just never the same when he came back, because of all the things he saw. He tried to seek treatment, but it didn’t work.”

She told the paper she hoped his death would bring more awareness about PTSD.

In 2003, Dwyer was still hopeful about the future, and about his place in the war.

“I know that people are going to be better for it,” he told Military Times. “The whole world will be. I hope being here is positive, because we’re a caring group of people out here.”

More information about or help dealing with PTSD

Photographer Zinn: ‘He became a casualty of war

9 comments:

truth said...

Great post,
This is a sad, but common story about the difficulties of dealing with post combat life. There is a great movie that came out last year called "The Valley of Elah." It's based on a true story of a missing soldier who just returned from Iraqi and his ex - MP father, who is determined to find out what happened to his son.

If you have not already caught the movie, check it out when you get a chance.

Peace!

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hello there MacDaddy,

Thank you so much for sharing this tragedy with everyone.

There are so many parts of the psyche of a man that refuse to admit a need for help...and that have an identification with rejection of inner pain as affirmation of "being a man"...

There are many, many black men who I have met who are in and out of recovery for substance abuse...most of them are unable to articulate their feelings constructively...so many years of being in "combat" mode within the ghettos has put so many of our men in a place of being emotionally-under-developed...and we don't talk about this....

I know that your post was not about that issue but I began thinking about it as I looked at this soldier's photo and read his story...

There are many layers of this story that we have to be willing to examine...

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Lisa

Anonymous said...

Blackwomenblowthetrumpet raises a good point about PTSD and what is, sadly, every-day trauma for people, and especially, anyone dealing with poverty, racism, and violence on a daily basis. PTSD is probably a much larger factor than is even known . . . there likely *should* be situation-specific "subtypes" of PTSD that could be identified, diagnosed, and treated. But as a nation, we have difficulty even funding basic healthcare for poor people -- much less psychological care.

Thanks for raising our awareness about this topic, MacDaddy.
Verna

rainywalker said...

daddyBstrong,
Thank you for your efforts to shine light on growing problems with our soldiers and veterans. Ironically women soldiers are at a higher risk [38%] of getting PTSD than men. My heart goes out to them and their families.

MacDaddy said...

truth: I'm aware of the movie and have already posted a review of it. BTW: I checked out your blog and thinks it's cool. Got you linked.
Lisa: You are spot on about this about men; and your point leads me to wonder if the problem of PTSD, or depression, isn't more widespread than we think.

In my research, I'm reading two things over and over again: That only about half of those identified as having depression or PTSD are being treated, and that the military-- in some cases--is intentionally failing to diagnose PTSD. Lisa, given men's reluctance to admit they need help, as you state and these two allegations, what these allegations suggest to me is that this problem is much more widespread than we know and the military is not remotely prepared or willing to deal with it.
Verna: I know you you have dealt with soldiers who have PTSD. Feel free to share any insights. Thanks.
rainywalker: Thanks, but I have to say I'm beginning to feel more and more pissed off and ashamed of our military and the Bush administration for tossing our soldiers into these wars abroad and providing them so little support once they come home.

MacDaddy said...

rainywalker: Given the high level of rapes and assaults on women in the military, the point you mentioned about women being at a higher risk for getting PTSD makes sense to me. If you come across any reports or studies about this, let us know. Meanwhile, i'll see what I can find. Thanks.

MacDaddy said...

Lisa, some years ago, a black woman named Saleema Majid asked me to assist her with some research she doing. Saleema was the Exec. Director of African American Family Services, a culture-specific chemical dependency agency here in the twin cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul). She wanted to do research to back up her hypothesis that some black men who come to the twin cities from violent inner cities like Chicago, Gary, Indiana, Detroit, East St. Louis, etc. exhibit the same symptoms as Vietnam vets who came home and were diagnosed with PTSD. Unfortunately, she died before we could get the research off the ground, but you've just reminded me that I should check and see if there is more recent research on this topic and share with readers. I think it's very much related to what we're talking about here. Thanks for reminding me.

patti t said...

Thank you so much for posting these pieces about the stories and the people who's lives are affected in ways most people in this country can't even fathom. The "heroes"--men and women--whose lives are taken from them and the ones they love too early in life--and some of them didn't die in the true sense of the word--they are not buried in a cemetary, but they may be "buried" inside their bodies or their minds, and/or not getting the support, the respect, the honor, and the attention to their lived realities, that they deserve. Thanks again for sharing these pieces with us.

MacDaddy said...

patti: Well stated. Thank you.