The weight of the wars the United States is fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq lies heaviest on the young soldiers in combat. But the perils of war are not just felt on the battlefield. From 2003 to 2007, 40,000 returning veterans were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to CNN.
Everyone with PTSD experiences the condition differently, and quite often they don't even recognize they have it right away. Bryan Adams, a 24-year-old Army veteran, didn't know he had PTSD when he came home from a year-long tour in Iraq in 2004. Adams settled back in with his family near Camden, New Jersey, and went through his days much like he did before he joined the Army. He enrolled in the local community college, hung out with his friends and dated girls.
Slowly, though, the Purple Heart recipient started to transform into a different person. "My friends and I would all go out, and I'd flip out on my friends and their girlfriends," Adams told MTV News. "Just saying really mean stuff that I didn't even know I was saying. I had relationship problems, too, with a couple of different girlfriends. I was mean."
(Read more about Bryan Adams and what he's doing to help other vets with PTSD in the MTV Newsroom blog.)
Not only were Adams' relationships deteriorating, he was also drinking heavily. He would cut class and hang out at a local bar. He said he would sometimes drive drunk and often at speeds that were well beyond the limit. He got into a couple of car accidents and was arrested on a DUI charge. "I just didn't care at all," he admitted.
Contributing to Adams' situation was an overwhelming sense of isolation. "It was this sense that I had been through all this stuff, and the people around me couldn't even begin to imagine what it was like. I couldn't really relate to anyone and didn't think they could relate to me."
Adams' story could have ended tragically, but it didn't.
"My mother is an ER nurse, and she started saying stuff to me: 'I think you have some problems that you need to take care of,' "Adams recalled. "She was getting concerned about how I was behaving and stuff I was doing and saying, and she was like, 'If you continue down this path, you're gonna kill yourself.' That said a lot to me, because she had never said anything to me before like that. Coming from her, I was like, 'Maybe I do need to figure out what is going on.' "
Drawing on his military experience and education, Adams decided that he needed some structure in his life. He decided to enroll at the University of Massachusetts, a state school that provides free education to returning veterans. More than that, however, he would be living with his old Army roommate, Jeremiah Driscoll, who was already attending the school. Having someone near him who could understand what he was going through was a crucial first step toward Adams' recovery.
"I knew that if I stayed at home, with the people I was already around, I probably wouldn't achieve much," he said. "Having my buddy from the Army helped, because he knew better than anybody what I was going through."
The second step to Adams' recovery was getting officially diagnosed with PTSD during a routine checkup at the local VA hospital in Boston. The staff at the hospital recognized Adams' behavior as outward symptoms of the disorder. Putting a label on his condition gave him a framework in which to understand his erratic behavior and allowed him to address it head on.
"When you get out of Iraq, they don't tell you about self-medication or symptoms of PTSD," he says. "I didn't know anything about it. I just thought I was living it up. I didn't realize this is actually a problem. It made me want to fix myself. I wanted to get better so I wouldn't act like this. It also made me want to educate other people on this sort of thing."
Adams conquered the external symptoms of PTSD, but for him and many others it's not something that can necessarily be "cured." A few months ago, he moved back home and enrolled at Rutgers University in Camden to be closer to his family. He also joined a veterans' group on campus called Veterans 4 Education. His goal is to help returning veterans more easily reintegrate to civilian life by recognizing things like PTSD and giving them support to conquer the condition. More important, Adams wants veterans to know that they are not alone in their struggle. For him, it was the key to everything.
Don't miss "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE," presented by MTV's Choose or Lose campaign and CNN to support veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The show features performances by 50 Cent, Ludacris, Kanye West, Hinder, Saving Abel and more, and airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.