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A Soldier’s New Mission: Fighting the Stigma of PTSD

Military vehicles roll out in a convoy to a mock combat theater.

Spc. Tawny Schmit/U.S. Army National Guard Photo

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects each person differently. For SGT Frank DeVito, it started with migraines. This quickly led to sleepless nights and intense feelings of anger.

The Utah Army National Guard Veteran’s battle with PTSD began after witnessing a suicide bombing while deployed in Afghanistan during 2008-2009. DeVito and his unit were gathering intel on a helicopter that was shot down earlier in the day when the explosion from a suicide bomber occurred on the road in front of them.

“I had never seen anything like that before,” he said. “I had a hard time processing that a guy blew himself up in front of our convoy.”

Soon after, he began having migraines. “It felt like a bug was in my head and chewing on my brain,” DeVito said. At this point, he did not know that he was struggling with PTSD. But then he started to feel like he was in a constant state of stress and had uncontrollable anger and night terrors.

After returning home from deployment, the effects of PTSD began to impact his relationships with friends and family members. Eventually, DeVito’s marriage ended, and he moved in with his family. “My mother and sister would watch me wake up from night terrors and they’d be in tears,” he said. DeVito turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. After family members confronted DeVito, he decided to seek help.

Many of the PTSD programs DeVito first attended focused heavily on drug and alcohol dependence. DeVito felt the programs lacked resources to properly address his combat-related issues. Then, a friend told him about a program called the Trauma and Resiliency Resources’ Warrior Camp. The program helps Soldiers and Veterans cope with trauma and enhance their resilience, and ultimately helped DeVito learn how to manage his PTSD. “I was able to see how this event impacted my life and that I had been denying its effect on me,” DeVito said.

A New Mission

Since tackling his trauma, DeVito has embraced a new mission – helping other Soldiers deal with their own combat-related struggles. Recently, he started the Utah-based nonprofit, Das Hooah. The organization helps Soldiers and Veterans talk about the challenges they’ve faced and provides a source of understanding and support.

Das Hooah’s upcoming project, Heroes Haven, is a weeklong program that will provide a safe space where Soldiers and Veterans can heal together. During the program, they will take part in therapy sessions and programs on health and wellbeing.

“If you want resiliency, you need to take the guys who went through [PTSD] and have them help those who are currently going through it,” DeVito said.

DeVito stresses the power of community support for those with PTSD because it helped him confront his own issues and find treatment. DeVito hopes the program will help those with PTSD and decrease their feelings of isolation. “Your experience [with PTSD] is your own and you need to know you are not alone,” he said. “I know that it hurts…but, it’s not supposed to stop you from living a productive life.”

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