Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saving America's Vets

The Warrior's Guide to Insanity

Overcoming PTSD

One Soldier's Story

God Bless Sgt. Andrew Brandi, a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. He's working to save America's vets--especially those young men and women returning from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq--from insanity and post traumatic stress disorder. And he's doing it the hard way: by revisiting his own 30-year bout with insanity.

Brandi killed women and children, burned too many villages to count and lost too many comrades to enemy rounds during his 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam.

When he returned to the States, he was, well, a vet with a fried brain.

He spent years dropping to the ground at the sounds of car backfires, dry-firing his weapons at TV screens while in drunken stupors, waiting in ambush while itching to kill hunters on his property, driving off three wives, going through 65 jobs, being a guest in VA psyche wards, trying to kill himself, staying away from shopping malls, checking buildings and ridge lines for snipers, and living a life tormented by the memories of combat. He nearly killed his first wife when she playfully sneaked up on him in the house one day. He stopped choking her just in time.

He was wracked with guilt for surviving when so many of is friends died, paralyzed by paranoia and the idea that well-armed snipers and enemies lurked everywhere, and debilitated by the guilt of having killed so many people.

For 12 years after he returned Brandi lived in his personal hell, never realizing there was something wrong, and never knowing where and how to get help.

He broke down one day in a movie theater after watching a Rambo movie. He sobbed in his seat and could barely move. He stumbled to a phone and called a friend who told him he needed shrink help. From there Brandi eventually recovered, but it took years.

He doesn't want today's returning combat veterans to suffer the same hell he did. He wants them to get immediate help. And help they need, Brandi says, because the situation for today's vets is more dire than it was for Vietnam vets. That's because today's warriors are having to pull two, and even three, combat tours, and it takes only one to scramble your brain.

Brandi's book, The Warrior's Guide to Insanity, details his insanity in a brutally honest way that will undoubtedly scare many people. But vets will understand his blunt, sarcastic and profane language. They'll understand when he counsels, "You can't kill everybody who pisses you off." They'll understand it when he writes:

"The first time I was in a firefight, surrounded by the 'Little People,' and my brothers and I were back to back, I learned what trust was: no little rice-propelled warrior in black pajamas was sneakin' up on me without having field surgery on the spot, that is, a new asshole placed in the middle of his head. My brothers, my 'friends' protected me with their lives, and I returned the privilege of putting my life on the line for them. You don't get any closer than that."

Brandi's premise is simple: War is beyond hell, those warriors who see combat are permanently changed by the experience--they will never be the same kids they were before they shipped out--their reactions, that is revulsions, to killing human beings are normal, and that they can overcome all that mental anguish had live happy, productive lives if they get the help that is out there.

Brandi sums PTSD up in one memorable paragraph:

"Why do you think the head shrinkers used to call a traumatic stress disorder Battle Fatigue? In their small, cluttered, pencil-pushin' minds, all they could figure out was that 'Gee whiz! Guess this warrior is gettin' burned out from being shot at, killing women and children, going without sleep, watching his friends get wasted, and having everybody with a pointed hat (now a Pizza Hut table cloth) on their heads trying to kill him.' Well no shit Sherlock! Talk about no-brainers!"

His advice is simple: Stay away from people who make you sick, talk with other vets, and if possible, get shrink help from people who have been through similar experiences. It's no one's fault. You're just human. War does this to people. There is no rush like combat, so deal with it. If you start the healing process now, it won't destroy your whole life.

There is much, much more in this incredible book. The fact is, you've never read anything like it--and never will--because no one has had the balls, like Brandi has, to write so honestly about such horrors. It's brutal, gut-wrenching--even funny--and, in the end, liberating.

This isn't just a book for veterans, though. Everyone should read it. Read it to understand what combat vets actually go through--it'll help you and them. And read it to see that most of your problems and worries are nothing compared to what these brave men and women have gone through for you. If you've been moping a lot or a little, you'll be inspired by this book to get off your ass and start solving your problems.

Buy this book. Donate copies to vets and veterans' organizations. Read it and urge your senators and representatives to help our returning vets.

Our veterans have put their lives and minds on the line for all of us. They come back from combat stressed and strained beyond belief. We need to understand what they've been through and are going through, and honor their sacrifices by helping them.

Throughout the book, Brandi stresses that combat changes people. "You will never be the same person you were," he writes, "so get on with making a new life plan."

Read this book and you will never be the same person you were.

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