"Then he went over to the East Bay, went into a 24-hour Fitness Center to use the shower, got into it with a security guard for trespassing and disorderly conduct, got arrested, and was brought to the V.A.'s PTSD center in Palo Alto," Mike said.
It was at this state-of-the art facility that Joe began to get help, and this year he returned to Chicago, where he is living with family until he returns to school to pursue his master's degree. Joe's mother, Betty, said dealing with all this has been minor compared to the prospect of losing her middle son permanently. But she resisted labeling behavior she believes was connected to his imploding marriage and financial problems when he moved to California, as well as to fallout from his injuries in Iraq.
She recalls getting an e-mail from their now former daughter-in law saying, "Joe has been living in the park, camping." Betty said the first year after Joe came back was pretty tough. "We knew the marriage was over. And a couple of times I called two of his real close friends who are Marines, to tough-talk to him. For a period of time, he was acting out, a different person. You could tell something wasn't right, and yeah, some blamed it on the service."
Asked what she thought of giving vets with PTSD a Purple Heart, an idea the military floated earlier this year, Betty said, "I don't know. They all have to go through it in some respects. My feelings about why he ended up totally collapsing is that he was trying to do too much on too little. They are over there, building cities and lives for people. Then they get back and find they can't support their families or themselves. But at least it's not like when folks came back from Vietnam and were labeled as bums."
Guardian staff writer Sarah Phelan's son deployed to Iraq in 2007 and returned in April 2008.