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Returning from War: An East TN soldier shares his story of PTSD & getting back to civilian life

12:29 PM, Feb 21, 2012   |    comments
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Thousands of post-911 troops are home from Iraq. Many of them spent months, and in some cases, years away from their loved ones.

Now, they're adjusting back to their lives on the home front, but some are facing a much different reality. 10News spent the past two months following an East Tennessee soldier on his journey to a new normal.

Army National Guard Sgt. Chris Lindsay, 32, has been home from combat for 18 months. Like many members of the military, transition back to civilian life has not happened for him overnight. Over the past couple months, Chris gave us an in-depth look at how he's starting over here in the states and continuing his service.

Chris is a member of the Guard's 777th Maintenance Company based in Smyrna, TN. Military mentality is front and center for the unit on drill weekends as they train for future missions. 10News caught up with him and his unit for their February 2012 training weekend.

"It's been one of our more relaxed drills in a while. We run pretty hard usually," said Chris.

He has spent the past 12 years as a weekend warrior. That duty put him in the middle of operation Iraqi Freedom, not once, but twice.

During his first deployment in 2004, "We did maintenance work. It was our job to make sure that pretty much anything that could roll, whether it had wheels or tracks, was up and running," explained Sgt. Lindsay.

His most recent deployment was from 2009 to 2010. That put him on the front lines, again in Iraq. This time his mission was different.

"I was doing convoy missions. We were the recovery asset for one of the security platoons," said Chris.

Today, Chris works to balance service and a semblance of normalcy. Even though he spends one weekend a month training with the Guard in Smyrna, he's transitioning back to civilian life in East Tennessee.

"I figured I was going to come back and step right back into my life and things were just going to be normal," explained Sgt. Lindsay.

But, getting back to normal life as a husband to his wife Kristy and father to three young children wasn't as easy as Chris thought.

"That's definitely the hardest transition I've ever made," he said.

Four years later, Chris found himself in transition again. He returned to Iraq the second time in the face of economic uncertainty.

The Lindsays lost their Lake City home to foreclosure shortly before he deployed, a symptom of the weak economy that some veterans can't avoid.

"That was just another source of worry, wondering what my family was going to do," said Sgt. Lindsay.

That worry continued when Chris returned to the states, "I came home to no job," he said.

Chris isn't alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among post 9-11 era veterans currently sits at nine percent nationally.

"It's been a long uphill battle to get back here," he said.

Chris has always wanted to go back to school. Not having a job and being a veteran gave him that opportunity. These days, Chris is a student on the G.I. Bill at Tennessee Technology Center in Jacksboro, Tenn.

Instructor Tammie Boling calls Chris's work astounding. His wife Kristy is thrilled for him too, "I'm so proud of him, I really am!," she said.

Chris is completing both legal and accounting degrees in one school year.

"The accounting degree is because I'm looking at helping run a small business once I leave here, so I figure I'll know how to balance the books for that," he said.

Taking time off from work means funds are tight. Chris says his family of five now lives on $1,300 per month compared to a $5,000 paycheck when he was deployed.

"It's a considerable drop," he said.

Despite this, Boling said Chris has come out of his shell, "He's still devoted, still focused on his goals, but also, he's developed a sense of humor."

"My ultimate goal with the legal degree is to use it to help other people change their situation," he said.

With a college education almost complete, and a new job on the horizon, Chris now focuses on a personal battle.

"It took me years to figure out I'm not Superman," he said.

His personal battle is a fight other veterans also face. He hopes others can learn from his story.

"A lot changes mentally for service members and their spouses and families because they have to endure a lot."

After two tours in Iraq, Sgt. Chris Lindsay is learning to balance the obligations to his family, his studies and his military service. But he's also dealing with the consequence of war.

"I was having a lot of issues I didn't realize I was having at first," he said.

Nine months ago, Chris said family moments his wife Kristy and three young children were rare, "I was getting snappy with my family. I was losing my temper easily."

He tried to push those emotions aside.

"It took me nearly losing my marriage before I finally agreed something had to be done," explained Chris.

"I gave him an ultimatum: Either you get help or I'm going to take our three kids and I'll leave you," said Kristy.

At Kristy's urging, Chris sought help for his mood swings and emotional distress from the Veterans Administration (VA). He says counselors in Knoxville diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"You still have that over-alertness, that hyper-vigilance that you're constantly looking around, scanning situations, looking for threats," said Chris.

"They're emotionally detached, emotionally numb, a lot of those folks have irritability, some anger outbursts, and that sort of thing," said Christie Cook, a social worker with the VA in Knoxville.

Cook says between 11 and 20 percent of post 9-11 veterans, like Chris, have PTSD. That percentage is likely higher.

"It's really hard to get accurate numbers because some of the soldiers don't report having PTSD for a variety of reasons," explained Cook.

Chris says he decided to confront his PTSD head on. He briefly saw a therapist and took medication. Now, he says school helps him cope, channeling his negative emotions into something positive.

"It's also given me time to relax and sit back and work on reprioritizing my life," he said.

Part of Chris's life now includes working to dispel myths about PTSD, "I just want to remove a lot of that stigma. I want to let people know that there's nothing wrong with asking for help."

Chris's commander in the National Guard, Capt. David Johnson, said only a small percentage of the 777th Maintenance Company have come forward with PTSD symptoms.

Capt. Johnson calls Chris a leader for sharing his story, "That makes him stronger than most people....it's not as common as people think, but of course it's not being reported as much as people think it is either."

"I get jumpy with noises. Crowded rooms make me nervous. But, as far as the anger goes, I'd say I'm doing a million times better with that," said Chris.

As he continues his journey of healing, he's focused on a bright future. His family recently bought a new home, and he signed up for six more years in the Guard.

"If anyone does need help, I'd really like to encourage them go get it, not just for them but for the people that they love, for the people that love them. Just don't let it get as bad as I did," he said.

 

If you, or someone you know is dealing with PTSD call the Veterans Crisis Line for help (1-800-273-8255) or go to their website.  If you need immediate assistance, call 911.

For more information about how to get help from the VA for PTSD, check out their website.  

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