By Darren Perron
Franklin, Vermont - A fellow Guard soldier captured a photo of Dennis Delisle and his wife, Mikell, on the day of his deployment to Iraq. He was all smiles-- unaware of the horror the next 18 months would bring.
"You're scared all of the time," he says.
At 38 years old, Delisle was called to duty; driving supply trucks in the war-torn country. He spent much of his tour in Ramadi, a hotbed for insurgents and one of the deadliest areas for U.S. troops. Delisle saw hundreds of bombs detonate. "While we battled insurgents, we could hear his screams. It was pretty horrifying."
He witnessed many deaths, including a colleague burned alive.
"I actually didn't think I'd make it back out of Iraq because of how scared I was."
He did get out and had hopes for the future, back home in Franklin.
"You come home and you get all of this honeymoon stage, back with family and reconnecting. You settle into a groove," he explains.
Life seemed normal for the first six months.
"It's like being newly married all over again," says wife, Mikell. "Everything is great. It's fantastic. Everyone is happy and excited. And then all of the sudden everything changes."
Delisle began to have bursts of anger, depression, thoughts of killing himself, and others.
"I still have nightmares," he says. "I still see stuff when I am driving. I pay attention to guardrails, bridges, and sometimes I drive too fast. Sometimes I drive on the opposite side of the road, just like I was in Iraq. So, I still have a lot of it."
He hasn't been able to hold a full-time job since his return.
"And you're dealing with emotions you didn't have to deal with for 18 months."
What the Delisles know now is that Dennis-- like an estimated half of all guard soldiers returning from the war zone-- is suffering from classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"These memories are so awful. So intolerable that people will do anything not to re-experience them," explains Dr. Matthew Friedman.
Friedman is one of the nation's leading experts on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He works at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction. He says some soldiers may have PTSD and not know it. A diagnosis could take years.
"The more trauma you're exposed to the more likely you will develop PTSD," says Friedman. "People may cope well for days, weeks, months, or years and then something will happen that sets things off."
For some returning soldiers, the daily agony has proved too much to take.
More than 6,200 veterans nationwide committed suicide in 2005. That's 120 veterans each and every week.
And Veterans 20-24 years old-- Iraq War vets-- had the highest suicide rate among all veterans.
In Vermont, the National Guard confirms at least three Vermont soldiers committed suicide since serving in Iraq. One other soldier may have taken his own life.
Dennis Delisle nearly became another statistic.
"My wife saw the signs and I went and got help," he says.
"I wouldn't back down," says Mikell Delisle. "If I didn't step in when I did, he would have killed himself. I know he would have."
Counseling and medication now have Dennis Delisle on the right track. He's learning how to manage his PTSD. But it has taken its toll on his family and on his finances.
To learn more about PTSD-- visit the National Center for PTSD website.
By Darren Perron
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