Since 2001, about 2.5 million people have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, at least a third of them more than once. When they return, many veterans need long term physical and mental care. But they often don't get it.
Even under the best circumstances, veterans often find that readjusting to civilian life can mean mountains of paperwork, and a lot of time spent navigating unfamiliar terrain – bureaucratic, and social.
Veteran Cindy Alejandrez, now 26, recalls what some of those early moments were like:
“Oh I got asked some really bad questions especially when I started community college. I got asked, ‘Oh do you have PTSD?’ which is really asking you about your mental state, which is a horrible question.
“People ask you, ‘Oh, did you do this in Iraq?’ or ‘Did you see anybody do this?’ and they're describing these violent situations and I had no way of answering that. If I say yes, you know, what are they going to think of me? If I say no.... I just had no idea how to answer them.”
Cindy’s a native of Chowchilla, in the Central Valley. She’s got one semester left at UC Berkeley – she’ll soon graduate with a degree in forestry. It’s a world away from her experience in the Marine Corps, in which she served in from 2005 to 2009. During those years, she deployed to nations around the world, including Iraq. She spoke with KALW’s Casey Miner about her experience at war, her transition into college, and helping other veterans adjust to life at home.
"I deployed [to Iraq] in the beginning of 2008, in January. I was there for about eight months. I volunteered and sort of got 'volun-told' into doing something called lioness work, which is searching females for contraband...you look for cash hidden in their body, explosives, that sort of thing – definitely a lot more intense than I expected it to be, you're just doing that every day. I think I knew what I was going to be doing, I didn't expect that I would be doing it for, you know, months. I could tell an outsider from a local just on how they approached me – and also their dress. They were comfortable with us because we'd been there so long and they knew that our presence there sort of picked out a lot of outsiders who might be smuggling in whatever...mortars, through their city, so you know they definitely were comfortable with us."
Veteran Cindy Alejandrez spoke with KALW’s Casey Miner as part of a collaborative project with the San Francisco Chronicle.