USA Cares supports veteran working to conquer social anxiety
“I look at things and think, ‘There might be a bomb there.’”
“My goal is to go to the mall and stay for one hour,” says Wilfie, 52, a former staff sergeant and medic with the Army National Guard.
He says his dislike for crowds might be a sensory overload, but that it is definitely a residual of him being hit daily – and repeatedly – by mortar and Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, while serving in Iraq.
“Really, I lost count,” he says with a slight chuckle of how many times he was hit with rounds.
Military experts say that mortar attacks are probably the most common threat faced by American troops. A common tactic of Iraq insurgents is to place mortars in heavy residential areas where the insurgents can go unseen and easily pop off a few rounds at military base camps without being easily discovered.
While most mortar rounds land harmlessly, they can cause plenty of damage and casualties if they land directly onto an individual or object.
“During one round I was standing by a truck. The mortar lifted it off the ground,” says Wilfie. “Another time we were having a platoon competition and a Russian-made rocket came overhead. It knocked me to the ground. One guy was hit by the shrapnel and almost died.”
“In a fast situation like that, you don’t think, you react. You start to protect what is yours and just think, ‘Is it over?’”
As a medic, “You just take your mind off of it and just go on. You don’t think about yourself.”
When he got back stateside, he says he began to behave strangely and obsessively, and that he suffered with recurring nightmares. He also worked hard to avoid places with a crowd. “It’s like I was just waiting on something to happen,” says Wilfie. “Crowds? No way. I look at things and think ‘There might be a bomb there.’”
He was diagnosed with the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. It’s an anxiety disorder that can develop after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. “It’s something you can’t see, but it’s a wound,” says Wilfie.
He entered into residential treatment which took him away from his family for several months. While the treatment was necessary to helping him better handle the nightmares and paranoia, it also caused a major and instant decrease in his family’s income.
His family contacted USA Cares for mortgage assistance. “I was worried about the money issue. I was about to get in my car and come back home,” he says. “And this was a hard program to get into.”
With donations from the American public, USA Cares assisted his family with $1,872.51 – one month’s mortgage.
“The help really was like a miracle, just a miracle.”