Health, Science, Environment
A war at home: a soldier’s mission against PTSD
Jeremy Profitt lives with his family in an East Bay suburb about 45 minutes outside of Oakland. He’s in his weekend uniform when he greets me at his door: white t-shirt, jean shorts, flip-flops.
They’ve just moved in, and his wife is unpacking the kitchen as Profitt picks up his baby daughter, Reiland. He gently cradles her in his lap as he starts to tell me his story.
“It felt gratifying,” Profitt says of his time in service. “I felt I was able to do my part.”
Profitt joined the Army because he wanted to go into law enforcement. He signed up in July 2001, and he was still in basic training when 9/11 hit. He remembers that day. “We had a TV on. We had a break at the end of the evening. We were all getting ready to crash for the night.”
That moment had a huge impact, not only to the world, but people enlisted in the military. It meant the country was likely going to go to war now.
Profitt describes the energy at the base where he was stationed as insane. “I’d say the mindset was we’re not going to let this go by,” he remembers. “You know these people were unjustly killed – and any – there was no reason for it.”
It didn’t take long for all that pent-up energy to find an outlet. Profitt’s unit was among the first to go to the Middle East. But when he landed in Afghanistan, he says things were still fairly calm. “Afghanistan was like a peace, to me, a peace-keeping mission. We were there early on so there wasn’t a lot of issues unfortunately that were going on today.”
Profitt served in Afghanistan for eight months and left in September 2002, unharmed. He says that first deployment felt right, felt justified. But then he was deployed again – to Iraq. Profitt remembers telling his parents that he wasn’t comfortable with this deployment, but he reminded himself that military service was something he signed up to do.
The trek to Iraq began in Kuwait. Profitt’s unit was headed to the northern area of Mosul where they would provide security for supply routes. Profitt says everyone was on edge. “Every time at night time, these alarms would go off and we would have to put all this gear on, and … we’d run out of our bunkers and hide,” Profitt remembers. After a while, he says, that scenario took a mental toll on him.
A lot of what he saw in Kuwait was like a Hollywood movie, Profitt says. The destruction and chaos he was used to seeing on film was now all around him. It didn’t take long for him to become numb to it all. “I didn’t really have any emotions, and that’s the whole problem is that through this whole thing,” he says. “There was no sad. There was no happy. There was … it was just, the best way I can describe it is just you’re a robot.”
On January 25, 2004, Profitt was violently jolted out of his numbness. He’d been in Iraq almost a year. He was in a truck about to head over a bridge when two improvised explosive devices blew up. His gunner and the gunner on the truck behind him were both hit. Profitt remembers the moment he looked up at his injured gunner and saw blood everywhere. “There [was] a hole in the side of his face. His helmet [was] gone. We all [wore] helmets when we’re out there. It got knocked off of him from the explosion.”
Profitt stayed with his gunner while the rest of the team hurried to get help. The gunner was in so much shock he didn’t know where he was. Profitt and the other soldiers got him to the base hospital in time to stabilize him. He was sent to Germany for further care and survived. But Profitt says after that day, he felt a horrible rage. It was the first time he was able to feel any emotional response. He had watched his colleague’s face be blown off, and he had to go back to work the next day.
Profitt was honorably discharged in March 2004. But he says his experiences in combat followed him. He calls it the “War at Home,” and his family and friends fight it with him – including his wife, Lindsey. Lindsey Profitt says her husband’ mother started noticing changes in him. Profitt was diagnosed with PTSD a year after his return home. He says it took a year for him to finally reach out for help because soldiers are “not trained to ask for help.”
Profitt says everyone handles PTSD differently, but everyone who’s been in combat deals with it. “I think that anybody that deploys, whether you fired your weapon or have done anything, it will alter your life because of the stuff you see,” he says.
Profitt has had a lot support from his family – something he says not all veterans have. He says things are getting better, even though he can’t shake the stigma that comes along with his diagnosis. He says he feared he would never get a job, but finally decided to accept his condition as a part of his life. Others would have to accept it, too. “If you’re not going to hire me because of, I served my country,” he says of hypothetical employers, “that’s their loss and not mine.”
If he could, Profitt would change one thing about the military: how it takes care of its soldiers when they come home. “We need to be proactive and not reactive. We have tons of funding, tons of services, but a veteran is not going to walk through the doors and say, ‘I need help.’” Profitt says that’s not realistic. “I didn’t walk in and say, ‘I need help.’ It took me a year to figure out that well, there’s something different.”
Today, Profitt is studying sociology at Cal State East Bay and works at the VA in Palo Alto. He finds writing and talking to be therapeutic, and he hopes one day to run for political office. He’s seen his symptoms gradually improve, but there’s one thing he still struggles with daily: driving. “If he’s in car he has to drive, he can’t handle being a passenger,” says Lindsey Profitt. Jeremy Profitt says that’s because when they were struck by the IED, he wasn't driving. “I cannot have someone drive me anywhere. It’s horrible, horrible, even now. I go nuts when people are driving me. I feel like I'm going to die.”
The difference now, he says, is that he knows he can get past those feelings. And he wants other veterans to know they can get past them too.
Priscilla Yuki Wilson is a student reporter at Mills College in Oakland. This story originally aired on August 22, 2011. A list of VA centers in the Bay Area is available here.