The War Within: Eyewitness News investigates PTSD, Part II

The War Within: Eyewitness News investigates PTSD, Part II »Play Video
Jacob Holder
* Editor's Note: This is an installment in an Eyewitness News special report on post–traumatic stress disorder. For months, Eyewitness News has been documenting personal accounts of the devastating disorder. Many military veterans have never spoken publicly about their agonizing problems.

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They're returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only as veterans, but many, changed forever. They are the new veterans suffering from post–traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

At just 17, Shafter High graduate Jacob Holder joined the Marines. Four years later the former home inspector and real estate investor found himself on the front lines in Iraq, day one of the war.

"Did they prepare you in any way for what you might see?" we asked Holder. "There wasn't preparation for what we might see, other than combat," Holder told us from the couch of his Bakersfield home.

For six months, Holder was a convoy escort and guarded strategic positions. All the while he endured ambush after ambush, enemy fire and scenes of horror only witnessed in war. He candidly told us his story.

"You know, you never get over the sight of seeing a child dead or a woman dead. You can handle men, but women and children are the worst," Holder calmly told us.

Discharged early after diagnosed with PTSD, except for a VA counseling session once a week, Holder rarely leaves home, suffers from continuous nightmares, anger and depression. Married while enlisted, his condition led to a divorce. A close war buddy committed suicide, just two days after returning from the war.

"Have you ever thought about killing yourself?" we asked.

Without hesitation, Holder replied, "Nearly every day. I have to say nearly every day. I mean if it wasn't for my belief system, I would have a long time ago. This is not easy to live with. and every day of my life, I have to say is my own personal hell."

When veterans like Jacob Holder come home, it's not just the brutality of war that stays with them. But things most take for granted like the sounds and smells of the road behind the wheel of a car.That's something former Navy field medic and Iraqi war veteran Scott Talley of Bakersfield knows all too well.

"On the freeway, you'll smell the diesel burning which is natural. It'll start to trigger that memory and of all of them, that's not really the ones I want to remember," the Navy veteran said.

Talley served six months in Iraq. He was in Baghdad the day Saddam Hussein's statue was pulled down. His mission was to treat fellow troops in a war zone. But the fight never ended once he returned home.

"I was having nightmares, I would get frustrated easily. I was a new dad and just that alone can be difficult," Talley said from his Bakersfield home.

"Right when he came home, I said let's go to the mall and get some new clothes or something. And it was kind of crazy at the mall and lots of people and he's like, let's go home now. "I'm like we just got here. He just didn't want to be there because the walls were closing in, " wife Cristina Talley told us.

For the father of three, it put a strain on his marriage. And on one trip to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth became something else to Scott Talley.

"The fireworks were being launched overlooking the lake and everything and it sounds just like artillery fire. And then you have the white light from the flash and I started getting very, very uncomfortable," Talley candidly said.

"When we got word we're going to "Enduring Freedom", I thought, all right, we're going to the big show, " said retired Bakersfield sergeant Mike Allen.

The Ridgeview High School graduate spent nine years in the Marine Corp, including a tour of duty in support of the war in Afghanistan. An expert machine gunner, it was only after Allen trained other young recruits headed to Iraq that he began to experience problems.

"The first group of individuals came, the first deaths were recorded. And within those first deaths, my first, one of my students was one of them. I can't recall his name off the top of my head," said Allen. "When that happened what went through your mind?" we asked. "It was like somebody threw a ton of bricks at me. And I started reflecting back to the classroom, that's the kid that fell asleep in my class, i didn't get through to him that day. it's my fault," Allen said as his head dropped, quickly glancing at his living room floor.

Of the 1,400 machine gunners he trained, by Allen's count, 15 lost their lives. The once gregarious veteran, now diagnosed with a form of PTSD known as "Survivor's Guilt."His wife Amber says she noticed a change when he began checking government websites for names of his students, killed in action.

"I couldn't communicate with him. No one could really talk to him. He wouldn't talk to anybody. Up til a couple months ago, I could burn dinner and he would think its his fault somehow," wife Amber said.

"He's just not the same kid that we brought up, " Mike's father Paul Allen said with pictures of his sons and himself as Marines behind him.

PTSD has hit his family not once, but twice. That's because his youngest son Chris, also suffers from the disorder, after struck by grenade shrapnel as a Marine in Iraq.

"As parents, it's really a gut wrenching type thing, where gosh, we hope they're OK, but they're again, unless they talk to us we really don't know, " Paul said.

"Do you think he'll ever become the old Mike?" we asked Mike's wife Amber. "No. I think the old Mike, I don't think it will ever come back. I think what he can do is take a little bit of the new Mike and find a happy medium that we can work with, "Amber said.

Right now, Mike Allen is attending counseling sessions with his family and has taken the first step on the road to recovery by recognizing he has a problem. Jake Holder is undergoing counseling through the VA and takes a number of medications to help lessen the PTSD symptoms. And Scott Talley is doing better. He credits his faith and his wife's support. He's studying to become a registered nurse before the end of the year.