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isappointments come in all forms during war. Chauncey Webster, 21, of Santa Rosa, was a teenager when he joined the Marines as a tonic for boredom. When he deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, he was bored in a different geography. “I was one of the newest guys,” says Webster. “I sat on the sidelines while everyone else got to do what we went over there to do. One of my buddies shot a Mark 19 and killed three Taliban. They were the only ones who shot at us. The locals didn’t bother. They only came around to sell us goats or chickens.” The locals also peddled hash, which Webster bought for $20 a brick and smoked to pass the time. But all was not calm. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 2010, Webster lost three comrades to the Taliban’s homemade

landmines, called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. “They make their own explosives with household items and put screws or ball bearings in them, and they put it in a water bottle or a concrete roadblock,” Webster explained. “When it explodes from inside something, it will shoot everything out as shrapnel. Our sergeant major lost both legs when he stepped on one.” One of Webster’s friends stepped on an IED in the shape of a shampoo bottle and was killed from the blast. Webster was discharged from the Marines for drug use, and he now bears a tattoo in memory of his lost comrades: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Veteran readjustment difficulties were identified collectively as a “public health concern” as early as 2007 in the report Bringing the War Back Home, a study of mental-health disorders among roughly 104,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan being treated by the Veterans Administration during the first five years of conflict. But that study didn’t include vets who don’t go for help, many of whom are resistant due to the stigma— particularly among troops— attached to therapy. Nunley says that while he was in Iraq, Army superiors advised him and his fellow soldiers that there was someone they could talk to if they were having problems. “But in the military, you’re trained to suck it up,” said Nunley. “You don’t want to be labeled as the guy with the mental problems, as someone who can’t be relied on.”


hile this wartime brotherhood may eschew mental-health services, it can be a part of the group healing process during the transition to civilian life, particularly in the residential treatment model created by Fred Gusman, director of the Pathway Home Program in Yountville. Gusman, a psychological social worker with a military background, has been building and operating trauma centers since the late 1970s. He was on the cutting edge when he created the treatment-center


INKED A tattoo on Chauncey Webster’s forearm memorializes fellow soldiers.

model for veterans returning from Vietnam, and is there at the forefront once again. “As the war winds down, there will be 30,000 vets returning over the next two years, just in California. After four to six years of military service, these veterans are getting out at age 26 and don’t know how to cope,” says Gusman, sitting in his office. “There were 23,000 California National Guard deployed. If one in three are coming back with adjustment issues, we have a public-health problem.” Three years ago, the military began posting signs on military bases to encourage servicemen and servicewomen to use mentalhealth services, but the stigma persists because the culture of the military will be slow to change, says Gusman. In 2008, the problem was so pronounced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs changed its rule against using television advertising and launched a public service video starring Gary Sinise, encouraging veterans with suicidal thoughts to call a help hotline. There is a large amount of goodwill among civilians who want to help returning vets; the public push to provide veterans with jobs, however, fixes only part of the problem. “We should also be providing services for anger, fear, issues about being in crowds,” says Gusman. “We’ve got guys who’ve been back three years, and they’ve tried to go to school, they’ve tried to go to work.” Without the proper support,

veterans often fail in jobs and school. A veteran who has attended military training classes where no disruption is tolerated—and where learning the material can have life-ordeath consequences—will find the atmosphere much different and relatively less focused in a college classroom. A new job situation will bring separate challenges and require other kinds of adjustment. What’s needed for veterans, according to Gusman, is a collaboration in which schooling, employment and mental-health strategies are offered together. “We have a lot of good things going on for vets, but we don’t have collaboration,” says Gusman, who sees the need to cut red tape and smooth the path for returning vets. “We should be learning from the past. We don’t need to create a chronic population,” says Guzman, referring to Vietnam vets. “Vets need to practice with real people, not just mental-health people.”


visitor to the Pathway Home Program navigates the spacious grounds of the California Veterans Home in Yountville, stopping at crossings where white-haired veterans of WWII wave amiably from electric wheelchairs, to reach the two-story building leased to the independently operated Pathway Home, one of two PTSD treatment programs in the country that is not affiliated with the military. In the hallway, a whiteboard lists an activity menu that ranges from art therapy and bowling

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re-experiencing that trauma. That’s what men and women in combat endure for months or years.” According to the RAND report Invisible Wounds of War, the 1.64 million troops deployed since October 2001 to Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained disproportionately high psychological injuries, primarily post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and traumatic brain injury. The report concludes that these returning veterans are at higher risk of partner abuse, divorce, suicide, substance abuse, heart disease and reduced job productivity that could lead to homelessness. For Nunley, homelessness was a temporary outcome of the heavy drinking and drugs he used as a coping device for his maladjustment. Now on permanent disability for cognitive impairment, traumatic head injury and other physical reasons, Nunley describes with a touch of bitterness the ineffectual drug treatment program he had to undergo while still in the Army. “I came up hot for pot on a random drug test, so to save my military career I took a demotion and went to rehab,” he says. “I was 12 days in what was supposed to be a 30-day program, and the VA gave me a certificate of graduation.”


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