By the end of 2014 one million American troops will have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Local experts say 20-percent have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many won't be diagnosed for years and most will never see the inside of a VA facility. A local soldier shines light on why we have to find answers for our veterans and their families.
The Berkana Hill Farm outside Prattsburgh is a long way from where Dan Hoaglin has been. Dan has served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Hoaglin retired after 6 tours and more than 11 years in the Army. He and his wife Angie moved their family here, almost as a last resort.
Angie says "It makes life real simple. It's easy. We've got our chickens. Our chores."
"It's nice to have the quiet" adds Dan. "Nobody really bugs me up here."
Like hundreds of thousands of others who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dan brought home the curse of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How often does he think about suicide? "It's almost daily. For about the last 12 years almost daily."
The first time Angie noticed something different in her husband was when he got off the plane with the rest of the 410th of the 89th Military Police Brigade in Fort Hood Texas. He was home after his second tour in Iraq. "And he came and he was not happy. It was like five hours after he got home we got into a huge fight."
Like most service members, Dan wouldn't admit something was wrong. "I was a soldier and I didn't want anyone to know I had PTSD. I was well respected. I was revered. And the last thing I wanted was that tag."
PTSD is a growing concern for the Veteran's Administration. In 2011, the VA treated almost half a million veterans. Almost 100-thousand served in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's a 35-percent increase since 2008.
Dan explains what PTSD has done to him. "Most people don't have the ability to say yes I saw a mortar round blow up five, you know, five car lengths away, but I have. So now when a car backfires, that same response, that same initial surge that kept me alive years ago causes problems for me now."
"There is like weight gain" says Angie. "Weird sexual behavior, there's financial stuff, there's alcoholism, there's drug abuse. There's a laundry list of just weird stuff that happens."
The years that followed were a living hell. Dan would leave on another tour and come home to a wife, fearful of his unpredictable and destructive behavior. He spent all their money and tried suicide by cop near Fort Drum outside Watertown.
Angie says her husband, who who had proven time and again he would go at a moments notice to serve our country, couldn't stop destroying himself and his family. "I lost my kids. I lost my house. I lost pictures. Baby blankets. Everything I had ever accumulated up to the point that we had met is all gone."
Even more frustrating for Angie? She pleaded for answers from Dan's doctors and superiors but got few. "We didn't have any idea what was going on."
Dan Hoaglin's most recent serious event with his PTSD happened on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. He says the emotions of that day triggered what he describes as an empty rage.
He drank, excessively and passed out in the driveway of his farm with a sword in his hand. "And when I woke up there was a person in a black uniform pointing a pistol at me. It was a cop that was coming to pick me up to take me to the hospital. But I didn't recognize that because I had slipped back into being down range."
Dan reacted defensively. Fortunately, it ended peacefully but he was arrested and is facing charges. He's also quit drinking.
This Soldier who would never give up the fight for his country isn't ready to give up the fight for his life. After working his way through the VA system and trying 9 different therapies, Dan is at the end of his rope. In a desperate effort to find a way to control his PTSD he's turned to a Rochester Vietnam Veteran and a strange, even silly looking therapy the VA doesn't widely recognize.
It's called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. Dan is now part of a research project called the Veterans Stress Project. The goal is to prove to the VA that EFT works. Time will only tell if it works for Dan.
Coming up Monday, we follow up with Dan six weeks later to find out if it's helped.
We have many resources for Veterans with PTSD.
The toll free number to the VA's Veteran's Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.
To talk with Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Tom Porpiglia at Life Script Counseling Services in Rochester call 585-704-0376.
Read about the Veterans Stress Project and EFT here.
The Veteran's Outreach Center has many free resources for veterans in the Rochester Region.
Warrior Salute is a service of CDS Monarch that helps Veterans from all over the country with PTSD.