It’s been a long eight years for Allen Morehouse. In 2001, he joined the army in hopes of getting money for college. In March 2003, he was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By October 2003, his entire life had changed. Morehouse became one of the 20 percent of
military forces suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.“
Before I went, it was described to me that there was nothing more godless than war; that was pretty accurate,” Morehouse said.
Morehouse was in Iraq when US forces pulled down the statue of Sadaam Hussein in Baghdad. In the fourth infantry division, Morehouse was assigned to clean-up detail, maintenance and retrieval. In simple terms, Morehouse was assigned to pick up dead bodies.
“It doesn’t just affect the soldiers and the people that are fighting; I saw so many kids getting killed….just as much as the fighters….I would pick up our guys’ bodies and their bodies too,” said Morehouse.
Life in Iraq was starkly different from civilian life, as Morehouse explained. “It’s weird what you can get used to….I learned to fall asleep to the explosions of mortar rounds.”
After nearly 52 months of active duty on a three year contract (his stay was extended due to “stop loss” initiation), Morehouse was sent home to be processed out. Returning to his station in Texas, he was instructed to get a hotel room and report for processing procedures. Morehouse could not report, however, and the procedures took longer than expected.
“I ended up staying locked in my hotel room for several weeks, ordering pizza because I didn’t want to leave….I was worried that people would shoot me,” Morehouse said.
It took 6 years for Morehouse to realize he had a problem. Family and friends kept telling him that he wasn’t the same person as when he left. “It took me years to realize what [PTSD] was or that I had it.”
Unlike so many veterans cut loose from the military, he had a catalyst to make him seek help.
“Right before my son was born, I was going I can’t do this anymore; I need to be a better example for him,” he said. Morehouse said he was intimidated by seeking help. Part of it was simple hardheadedness, according to Morehouse, but underneath was a deep seated fear.
“My whole fear with going to get help I was afraid the VA was tied to the military, and they’d make me go back,” Morehouse said.
In a war many veterans have struggled to find reason in, Morehouse felt the effects of war, but still cannot see a viable justification. “We were trained to guard the oil fields; there was no mention of Weapons of Mass Destruction….It was an unjust war.”
The effects of PTSD hasn’t dulled since Morehouse returned.
“I’m just now starting to get readjusted,” he said.
According to Kris Falco, psychology professor at COCC, the effects of PTSD can vary but include “anger, irritability, depression, apathy, hypervigilance, guilt, poor judgement, sleep disturbances including nightmares and night terrors, and hyperactive startle responses.”
Morehouse suffers from irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, night terrors, and distraction, and his symptoms sometimes effect his life as a
student “I get distracted and irritable a lot,” he said.
Morehouse has found a quiet resource at COCC to help him study: the Veterans Lounge in the Campus Center. Because of the side effects of PTSD,
Morehouse has had difficulty studying. “I like the veterans lounge– I like the fact that windows are frosted. I do all my schoolwork there.”
According to Gordon Price, director of student life, the Veterans Lounge used to be staffed by an army liaison, but isn’t any longer due to federal
budget cuts. “We hope to have the center staffed again,” said Price.
Today, Morehouse is living on a day to day basis. He still suffers the effects of PTSD, and will likely take medications for the rest of his life. According
to Morehouse, he’s “just gonna have to learn to live with it; it’s never going to go away which is depressing in its own right….it’s a hard thing to swallow.”
Now a father of two, Morehouse is relying on his education for his economic survival. Since returning from deployment, the longest continuous employment Morehouse has enjoyed was three months. In one year, according to Morehouse, he went through ten jobs.
I don’t like being in public or around a lot of people,” Morehouse said. “I keep people at arm’s distance, including my wife.”
By talking about his experiences, Morehouse said he was working on his own recovery. He also hoped that his story would bring strength to other veterans suffering from PTSD.
“I suffered in silence for many years….I’ve really paid a price for my college money.”
You can contact Alyssa Wilder at email@example.com