June is recognized by many as PTSD Awareness Month, and today, June 27, as PTSD Awareness Day. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a severe mental health condition associated with a traumatic or violent event in an individual’s life. It’s estimated that 7.7 million American adults have PTSD, and that’s not taking into account cases in children, as the condition can occur at any age.
One group for whom PTSD is a significant problem is the military; it’s said one in five military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan face this struggle. In an effort to help veterans process and heal, we partnered with USA Cares and their Warrior Treatment Today program, which financially assists veterans and their families so service members can receive treatment. A portion of the proceeds from our USA Cares Title shirt goes toward providing this vital support.
Justin Chattoo is both an employee of USA Cares and a veteran of the war in Iraq. Below, he writes about his own journey through PTSD, and we are honored to share his words with you on PTSD Awareness Day.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and I grew up like most good Brooklyn boys, playing football in the street and having a good time with my friends. I joined the NYPD Cadet Program when I was in high school and even had the honor of working for the Chief of the department as an intern.
Then, September 11 happened, and my life as a New Yorker—as an American—was changed forever.
Two years later, I decided to follow family tradition and serve my country. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, just as my father’s entire side of the family had done since coming to the country in the 1960s. Off I went to boot camp, and then I was sent to Fort Knox to be trained as a M1A1 Tank Crewmen. From there, I went to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and the 1st Tank Battalion in Twentynine Palms, CA. During my time in the battalion, I went on deployments, visited schools, lost friends along the way. I gained valuable experience—but I also picked up an unwanted darkness in my life.
After an explosion of anger toward one of my fellow NCO’s, I was sent to the chaplain to talk. The chaplain decided it would be a good idea to head up to the officer and then speak with a psychologist. It was at this point, after taking all the tests and going through all the questions, that I was “tagged” with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
I knew this was a career-killer, which sent me further down the path of anger and resentment. I had pulled away from most people who knew me and was an island unto myself. I ruined countless friendships because I could not truly be a friend, nor could I control my moods. I was engaged before I had gone to Iraq, but the creature that returned drove her away. I had no one to blame, and I spiraled even further into the darkness.
I don’t know where I would be had it not been for my uncle, a Desert Storm veteran, who stepped in and spoke to me. He encouraged me to get help.
So I did. I got help, left the Marine Corps, and began my transition to being a civilian.
But both PTSD and the stigma that surrounds it would continue to have a presence in my life. On every job interview I had, I was asked if I had ever been deployed. When I would answer honestly about my experience, the whole mood of the interview would change. Many employers seem to have a misconception that someone with PTSD is a liability and will eventually snap and hurt someone. I knew, just as many who suffer from PTSD know, that while there are moments of intense anger, there are more moments marked by depression and grief when you simply retreat into yourself.
Thankfully, due to the veteran hiring preference and the help of Veterans Affairs in locating a job they felt I could do, I finally ended up working for the Department of the Army doing medical boards for three years. Unfortunately, with the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), my job was moved to Fort Benning, where I could not go. Lo and behold, my old “friend” PTSD returned to push me into depression.
But then, in 2012, I was given an opportunity to begin working at USA Cares as a Jobs Resource Coordinator. We help remove the barriers veterans face when they get out of the service and are in need of help, either finding work or getting financial assistance for bills hanging over their heads. I often encounter veterans who have PTSD and are looking for someone to simply talk to. USA Cares allows me to have those conversations. I get to help my brothers and sisters and make sure they, too, can move forward with their lives. I am privileged to connect them with careers that utilize their skills, hopefully leading them into the happiness they deserve, like I have found.
Working with USA Cares has been one of the most rewarding things I have done. Not only has it honestly helped me come to terms with my own PTSD, I, in turn, get to help those who are struggling with it every day.