Invisible Wounds - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Invisible Wounds

Marine Corporal Gary Brewer Marine Corporal Gary Brewer
Honolulu Academy of Art Honolulu Academy of Art
Dr. Heather Purcell Dr. Heather Purcell
Marine Corporal Gary Brewer Marine Corporal Gary Brewer

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Defense Department estimates up to one-fifth of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will experience some type of post traumatic stress disorder. Many troops are still hesitant to get help because of the stigma attached, but the military is offering support and acceptance like never before.

The battlefield of Afghanistan is a far cry from the Wheatfield of Vincent Van Gogh.

But here at the Honolulu Academy of Art, Marine Corporal Gary Brewer is learning to deal with classic symptoms of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, including irritability, hyper-vigilance, and a self-professed bad attitude.

"I just wanted to be, kind of, on my own. Just let me be and maybe I'll just get over it by myself - and then, I realized that wasn't working," Brewer said.

The 21 year old recovered from a concussion and hearing loss after a roadside bomb attack in September, but his "invisible" injuries are still healing. As part of relaxation therapy, the "Wounded Warriors" program sends troops to treatments once unheard of in the military, like browsing art galleries.

"I go to do yoga. I also go to pilates. We have guitar lessons. A lot of stuff to just keep your mind away from everything that happened before," Brewer said.

The machine gunner keeps the specifics of "what happened before" close to the vest, but says his PTSD is triggered by the overall experiences of war.

Reaching out for help, like Corporal Brewer did, takes courage. Troops are often worried to report problems for fear of looking weak, damaging their military career, or letting their buddies down.

The Department of Defense estimates between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experience some form of PTSD and as many as 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have suffered from it

"What we have learned through the years and the different wars is that, definitely, you come in and you're seen, and you're seen sooner rather than later, then PTSD is definitely something that's recovered from," Tripler Medical Center psychologist Dr. Heather Purcell said.

Brewer isn't bashful about needing help and encourages others not to be afraid.

"There's a bunch of different people you can talk to: doctors, chaplain, that are all held to privacy acts. So, if you don't want people to know, then there's people you can tell that only they will know," Brewer said.

The Corporal still wishes he was back on the battlefield with his unit but knows this is where he needs to be. Once he's recovered, the man in the mirror says he'll be ready to re-enlist.

Tune in to Hawaii News Now at 10:00 p.m. To see how Tripler Army Medical Center is helping break new ground in PTSD research by using virtual reality therapy.

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