Video: Healing the scars of war

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 5/20/2005 7:36:44 PM ET 2005-05-20T23:36:44

They are veterans of the Iraq war. All are struggling with life back home and the psychological scars of war.

For 25-year-old Specialist Aaron Jones, the memories are impossible to shake. All it takes is a loud noise or a familiar smell and he's back in Iraq — back to the rocket attacks, the mortar fire and the roadside bomb that injured his spine. He wasn’t in too bad of a shape when he came home.

"I expected everything to be fine," says Jones. "I couldn't wait to catch up everything that I'd been missing out on for the past year. I don't think I realized the issues I was going to have when I got home."

But then came the nightmares, the anxiety attacks and rage.

"I started wondering, 'Is it me? Am I whacked out? Or is this normal?'" he says.

Unlike the physical scars of war, the psychological effects are often overlooked or hidden. And the soldiers who suffer from them often suffer alone. An estimated one in six soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, an often-debilitating condition that can destroy lives if it isn't treated.

"No one is immune to fear," says Jay White, a counselor with the Hartford, Conn., Veterans Center. "I think the biggest bridge is saying to yourself, 'OK, I need to talk to somebody, I can't handle this myself.'"

White knows, not just because he's trained to know, but because he's been there. He's a soldier: An Iraq war veteran with the 883rd and a new breed of war counselor reaching out to veterans just back from the front lines. He speaks to vets, assuring them they're not the only one with nightmares.

White is hoping that his own military experience will make the difference and encourage fellow soldiers to overcome the stigma of asking for help.

For Aaron Jones, he did just that.

"Too many people want to know things, 'Did you shoot somebody? Did you kill anybody?'" says Jones. "Jay is always on my side. He's gone through everything that I've gone through already."

And so, every day, Aaron Jones tries to reconnect to his former life — a life where a loud noise is just a loud noise and not another reminder of a place he's trying to leave behind.

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