Private Battle, Part 3 (WCAX)

Part 3 of 3

By Darren Perron

Franklin, Vermont - February 7, 2008 -- "An IED went off and come up through the floorboard of the truck," recounts Dennis Delisle.

Delisle doesn't talk about his experience in Iraq much. But when he does, it's clear the war veteran suffers from invisible wounds in addition to the shrapnel in his groin and hearing loss following a roadside bomb attack.

"We had one soldier... his truck was blown up off the bridge. It engulfed in flames and he burned to death," says Delisle.

Delisle suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He's been suicidal, homicidal, and is struggling to transition back into his life at home.

"As it goes on, you hide and it gets worse," he explains.

PTSD has been tough on his family, too. His wife, Mikell, lost her hair after stress triggered a condition called Alopecia. Dennis can't hold down a job. And the couple is losing their home in Franklin because they're so behind on their bills.

"It's too much for them. They shouldn't have to deal with that when they come home," says Mikell Delisle.

The rates of PTSD are at record levels, with more Iraq War vets diagnosed than vets from any other war in American history. Though experts say the illness is nothing new.

Once called Vietnam syndrome, shell shock, or battle fatigue, PTSD was officially recognized in 1980. With increased awareness and treatment options more soldiers now come forward, acknowledging their symptoms and adding to the number of reports.

Most are National Guard soldiers. It's estimated that half of all of them returning from the Middle East suffer from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries. And that number is expected to grow with repeated deployments.

"The cost of war is a lot more than most people think it is," says Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. "It's not just the tanks, the weapons and the bombs. It's not just those who come home in caskets or the funerals. It's not just those who lose their legs and arms. We can see that. There is an invisible cost of war."

Sanders helped secure federal funds for the Veterans and Families Outreach Program-- a first-of-its-kind project that other states are closely watching.

"Our job mainly is to contact soldiers," explains Vt. National Guard Outreach Team Leader James MacIntyre.

Nine trained outreach workers plan to interview all 2,662 Vermonters who served in the Middle East and their families to see how they're doing and get them into the right programs quickly. When dealing with PTSD early intervention is crucial.

"We're convinced if people are contacted we unearth things that could grow bigger, but you get them. Get them to an appointment. Get them into financial resources, family counseling resources and that's all going to make a big difference," says MacIntyre.

There are several treatments for PTSD, including individual and group counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy, which experts say is proving most powerful. Soldiers confront their traumatic memories and learn how to cope with them. Sufferers usually take anti-depressants which also help with anxiety disorders, like PTSD. Some soldiers can be cured; for others, PTSD will be a life-long battle.

Symptoms of PTSD may not show up for years. Now the VA has extended its eligibility for free health care to five years after service and it includes treatment for PTSD.

"If left untreated, PTSD can have terrible consequences and people are gonna be alone and homeless," explains Dr. Matthew Friedman of the National Center for PTSD. "We want to really prevent the newer veterans from going through the same cycle of alienation that older veterans have gone through."

Medication and counseling continue to help Delisle-- who hopes to win his private battle.

"My treatment is working. Hopefully, I can keep a job," he says. "Now we find another home and start all over."

At least three Vermonters who served in Iraq have committed suicide since they returned from the war zone. The VA has set up a 24-hour suicide hotline for round-the-clock access to mental health professionals. The number is 1-800-273-TALK. To learn more about PTSD-- visit the National Center for PTSD website.