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Madison County deputies say four teenagers were shot at a high school graduation party early Wednesday morning. The shooting happened just after midnight at a home on Michael Drive. A partygoer told WAFFMore >>
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
Central Alabama has seen its share of homecomings with soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what happens when the excitement and celebrations die down?
Alabama has one of the largest National Guard units in the country with more than 12,000 reservist. And, the end of the war could signal another battle for soldiers in Alabama and across the country on U.S. soil.
There's a war being waged at home, and the fight is against a physiological enemy.
"When the Iraq war began, Al Bloom was in the Navy. Retired now, he remembers heading into Kuwait for Operation Enduring Freedom. He was then sent to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both times, Bloom helped set up military hospitals. "For me it was a little bit different, a little more shocking, being a witness to that, being so close to it," Bloom explained. "It's one thing to see it on television. It's another thing to see it in front of you."
Bloom spent four months in Iraq, and when it was time to go home he says he left the war behind him. "I didn't have a whole lot of anguish or difficulty re-acclimating back to civilian life," he admitted, but "of course I was still in the military. Some other folks did have a hard time."
The transition to home life isn't always easy. It's estimated up to 20 percent of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq will suffer from post dramatic stress disorder, once known as shell shock or battle fatigue.
It's what the attorney for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales says his client suffers from. When the American soldier reported for duty in Afghanistan last December it was his fourth deployment. He served three tours in Iraq. Some believe his rotation in and out of those war zones may have triggered something that pushed him over the edge.
Bales is accused of walking into Afghan villages, killing women and children.
"Our counselors and others do a lot to express to soldiers that this readjustment is something you've got to work at," says Chief Steve Missledine who heads the Yellow Ribbon program for the Alabama National Guard. It provides pre and post deployment services for soldiers and their families.
Missledine believes if not treated, PTSD can lead to other problems including suicide. According to a new study released by the Army, it's hit an all time high. In 2011 there were 164 suicides among active duty Army, National Guard and Reserve troops. That's compared to 159 in 2010 and 162 in 2009.
During that same time, Alabama's National Guard reported two suicides in 2011, three in 2010 and one in 2009. Dr. Rebecca Jacobson was hired by the National Guard to help address that very issue. "Historically, my dad - who was in the war - just had to live with it," she said. "There were no resources available, so he lived with it. He didn't talk about it. He handled it the way it was handled." Still, Jacobson thinks it's a "big step to realize we've had generations who have been dealing with trauma and re-integration, and we've done nothing."
So more is being done. Along with investing in resilience and suicide prevention, more mental health professional have been added to the Yellow Ribbon program. "I think the stigma associated with asking for help for the person in uniform, asking for help, the Department of the Army, are doing what they can to remove that stigma."
With only half of returning soldiers seeking psychological help, many question how to reach the other half who will suffer in silence with invisible wounds that may never be healed.