Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army’s Twitter account asked current and former soldiers how serving in the military has impacted their lives.
The tweet was accompanied with a video of Pfc. Nathan Spencer, a scout with the Army’s First Infantry Division, who shared how the Army has allowed him to serve something greater than himself, “to give to others, to protect the ones I love and to better myself as a man and warrior.”
The post attracted has attracted thousands of responses, with a number of replies mirroring Spencer’s comments on the pride of service. But many more painted a harrowing picture of the toll America’s wars have taken on service members and their families.
Tweet after tweet, respondents detailed their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, life-long health issues, difficulties with the Veterans Administration and suicide. Some of the respondents also appeared to be family members or friends sharing what they witnessed loved ones endure after service.
“I am a Navy vet, I was a happy person before I served, now I am broke apart, cant even work a full 30 days due to anxiety and depression, i have Fibromyalgia and nobody understands because I am a guy. I am in constant pain everyday. And I think about killing myself daily,” one Twitter user wrote.
I am a Navy vet, I was a happy person before I served, now I am broke apart, cant even work a full 30 days due to anxiety and depression, i have Fibromyalgia and nobody understands because I am a guy. I am in constant pain everyday. And I think about killing myself daily……..
— Jeffrey Scott (@Jscott916) May 25, 2019
OEF, OIF ptsd with chronic pain. I lost my wife, a chance to bound with my children. Worse of all I lost myself. It’s getting easier to survive but war is war. I’m proud to have sacrificed myself so that people I love don’t have to participate in war. Love one another.
— Lighthorse (@Dan96904742) May 26, 2019
My Uncle served and did 3 tours one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. His stories are horrific, he suffers from PTSD and a TBI from an explosion. He is an opiate and meth addict now. After his last tour he beat his fiance and choked her when she tried to wake him from a nightmare.
— Brit (@brit_brit07) May 27, 2019
Of them all, so he never received any jail time. They finally discharged him due to his severe PTSD putting others at risk. He doesn’t want help from anyone, a needle in his arm is a better option according to him he can forget the ghosts.
— Brit (@brit_brit07) May 27, 2019
As a mother, I was proud of my son as he signed up to serve his country during his last year of High School. He served 3 deployments in Iraq. That young man with his whole life in front of him is now broken mentally and emotionally beyond recognition and the Army isn’t helpful.
— aunttea (@AuntTea04) May 26, 2019
My high school friend Ron Keeling committed suicide in 2009 after his second tour in Iraq. I didn’t keep in touch with him after high school but I often think of ron and those he served with.
— Michael Alexander (@TahoeMichael) May 26, 2019
Found my mother in the closet after her tour in Afghanistan with a knife, she’s still afraid of firework sounds. It’s impacted me because my mom won’t ever be the same mentally. So thanks for that.
— Nathan? (@naathantyler_) May 27, 2019
Not all the replies were related to the toll of combat. Some used the public platform to talk about sexual assault and the plight of gays in the military.
“Sexual harassment every day. Experiencing sexual assault. Protecting others from sexual assault. Sleeping w/ a knife @ night & holding my body against a door as a drunk male banged on our barracks door. A fear that never leaves me. That is how serving has impacted me,” wrote Twitter user Hannah Funderburk, who worked at the U.S. Marine Corps, according to her Facebook bio.
Sexual harassment every day. Experiencing sexual assault. Protecting others from sexual assault. Sleeping w/ a knife @ night & holding my body against a door as a drunk male banged on our barracks door. A fear that never leaves me. That is how serving has impacted me.
— Hannah Funderburk (@HannahFunderbu3) May 26, 2019
Oh, ya know, PTSD, depression, anxiety, nightmares- all from sexual harassment during my service that nobody was ever held accountable for. The master chief who could have ended it (but didn’t) is now CMC of an entire Navy Region, but I got kicked out for reporting harassment. ����♀️
— Shentel Downes (@Ixtahb) May 26, 2019
My wife and I served in the @USArmy. We spent over 5 years geographically separated from each other. She was sexually assaulted on deployment and kicked out of the army for seeking treatment bc she was then deemed unfit for service. I got out bc her assaulters went unpunished.
— C & B (@johnsoncale1) May 27, 2019
Depression, anxiety, still can’t deal well with loud noises. I was assaulted by one of my superiors. When I reported him, with witnesses to corroborate my story, nothing happened to him. Nothing. A year later, he stole a laptop and was then demoted. I’m worth less than a laptop.
— schmox (@IvoryGazelle) May 25, 2019
I was forced to resign my commission while serving in Kuwait during the first Gulf War because I am gay. I received an other than honorable discharge despite excellent performance reviews. Not to mention I was exposed to low levels of exploded chemical weapons.
— Mark Landes (@usmagrad87) May 26, 2019
While NBC could not independently confirm details of the more than 11,000 stories shared, the Twitter thread shed light on the broader issue of the need to care of veterans, better address mental health and the epidemic of veteran suicide.
The Army responded to the thread in a series of tweets, thanking people for sharing their personal stories and directing those in need of help to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or to visit veteranscrisisline.net.
“Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations,” the Army said in a series of follow-up tweets. “The Army is committed to the health, safety and well-being of our Soldiers. As we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this weekend by remembering their service, we are also mindful of the fact that we have to take care of those who came back home with scars we can’t see.”
There are 18.2 million veterans in the United States, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reported that 11% to 20% of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans, 30% of Vietnam veterans and 12% of Gulf War veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
And it’s not just from combat. According to the VA, the experience of military sexual assault can also cause PTSD. Among veterans who use VA health care, 23% of women reported being sexually assaulted in the military.
A survey released by the Pentagon earlier this month found that the problem is vastly larger and that only a third of those who were sexually assaulted in the military filed a formal report, The Associated Press reported. The Pentagon releases a report every year on the number of sexual assaults reported by troops. But because sexual assault is a highly underreported crime, the department sends out an anonymous survey every two years to get a clearer picture of the problem.
Suicide also impacts veterans at disproportionate rates. According to a report by the VA, veterans are 1.5 times more likely than non-veterans to die by suicide. The report found that between 2005 and 2016, more than 6,000 veterans died by a suicide a year.
“Suicide remains a top clinical priority,” said Peter O’Rourke, then-acting VA Secretary, of the report’s findings. “One life lost to suicide is one too many. Suicide is a serious public health concern in the Veteran population and across all communities nationwide. These data offer important insights to help VA to build effective networks of support, communication and care that reach Veterans where they live and thrive.”
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.