The tough reality of vets returning home.
Jamie Beavers is a clean-cut, 32-year-old Catholic from south Philly. As a kid, he shot hoops to avoid the neighborhood drug toughs. He became a high school basketball star and won a full university scholarship. He played varsity until an injury sidelined him and the scholarship was withdrawn.
At loose ends, he enlisted in the Army in 2003 and was sent twice to Iraq, spending 27 months in combat and enduring multiple IED blasts and other trauma. He came home with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and an addiction to the pills that medics in Iraq had provided to keep him going.
This past February, he was arrested and thrown in jail, sick, alone and hopeless. His wife, terrified of his nightmares and drug habit, had fled with their two girls. His brain injuries had dimmed his ability to think and speak, and left him so dizzy he often had to walk with a cane.
"Seems like I'm a 10 year-old kid in a 30-year-old body," he said. "I just lost a lot of things people take for granted. And I became an addict of opiates. It just kinda spiraled out of control."
Among the grim repercussions of a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the dead, the battle-injured, the wreckage, the wasted billions -- is this: while most soldiers return from war and resume a somewhat normal life, many do not. All too frequently, the trauma of combat leads to struggles with drug addiction or alcohol abuse, to outbursts of anger and violence at home or work, to petty crime or other reckless behavior that ends up in a confrontation with flashing lights and handcuffs.
No one knows the precise number of veterans already in prison. An estimate by the Justice Department five years ago put the number at 223,000, most of them Vietnam-era veterans. Whatever the number, many serve their time without getting treated for the conditions that helped land them in prison in the first place.
There are more coming, in what will amount to a river of personal tragedies that is likely to clog the courts and, some say, will pose dangerous risks to civilian society.
“It’s going to be an epidemic,” says Guy Garant, an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia who handles a rising caseload of veterans. “I’m seeing Vietnam veterans who went [to war] once, 40 years ago. Now we have guys 18, 19 years of age, going again and again. We’re going to have huge issues with this.”
War veterans, of course, are responsible for their actions, like everyone else. And some doubtless would have gotten in trouble no matter what their wartime experiences. But research has demonstrated that the trauma of combat makes men and women more likely to engage in criminal behavior.
Based on interviews with men who fought in Vietnam, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study estimated that half of all combat veterans with PTSD had been arrested one or more times.