"There was a huge explosion. I stepped right into a pool of blood: Sergeant Huey's blood." That's how the nightmare began for David, a former infantryman with the US Army's Third Platoon, Charlie Company whose "Other Than Honorable Discharge" barred him from access to medical benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Watch The Wounded Platoon, a film by WGBH's Frontline, winner of every major journalism and broadcasting honor, including 45 Emmys, 14 Peabodys, and 25 duPont-Columbia Awards.
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[01:00:02:14] DAVID: There's like this overwhelming sense of machismo in the army. You gotta be tough, you gotta be this, so nobody wants to say, hey, this is really what's going on.
Frontline presenter: Today Frontline investigates the invisible wounds of war.
DAVID: I was in a Frontline documentary called 'The Wounded Platoon.' The documentary was about the after effects of the operation in Iraq. It showed how the army was inadequately equipped with handling soldiers with PTSD.
On a daily basis, it's very likely that you would see things that are upsetting to most people. You're trained not to think about it. You're trained to simply do as you're told, and you get to go do it all over again the next day.
[01:01:04:07] There was a huge explosion, I stepped off the gun to go help, and I stepped right into a pool of blood, Huey's blood. That's where he had been hurt.
Frontline presenter: Seven soldiers from Third Platoon were badly wounded. Sergeant Huey was in the worst shape.
DAVID: Shrapnel went through his femoral artery, and he eventually passed away. My platoon lost Sergeant Huey, we lost our heart.
Frontline presenter: The bomb that killed Huey devastated Third Platoon. The soldiers who were there that day, are now scattered across the United States. They are still haunted by what happened.
DAVID: Talked to a psychologist when you first get back when they are trying to debrief you or whatever. I just figured I was ok.
Unknown: I think a lot of soldiers came back and they were trying to suppress the PTSD. And one of the ways you suppress is by doing cocaine.
DAVID: That's all I wanted to do was drugs. If you're mind was wandering before and you had trouble shutting it off, all of a sudden, oddly enough, you know, you're giddy as all hell whenever you snort cocaine.
[01:02:17:22] Doing these drugs, they'll flood your system with serotonin and dopamine, and the next day, you feel like a complete ass, so what do you do? You do more of it.
Frontline presenter: Nash failed two army drug tests. He says he then asked his commanders for help dealing with the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Nash's record shows that he did alert fort Carson doctors about his PTSD symptoms. The assessment concluded he was a current risk for harm to himself or others. Shortly afterwards he was discharged from the army with no PTSD diagnosis, and what's called an "Other than Honorable Discharge."
DAVID: I lost the GI bill, health insurance. I thought that I lost help.
Frontline presenter: It's now four years since Nash was thrown out of the army. He is still unemployed, he avoids crowds.
DAVID: When I first talked to Frontline people, I was lost. My mental state was in turmoil. I was a very unhappy person, you know, smiling on the outside, crying on the inside.
Right after the broadcast of the documentary, the VA called me and they were like: "Hey we would like to help you start the process of getting your health benefits back." It rejuvenated my life.
[01:03:43:03] And all of a sudden you just hear vaboom, and a big old mushroom cloud.
Counselor: How does it feel talking about it?
DAVID: I dunno, just sad I guess. Sad, angry. They had a councilor at the veteran center, and he helped tremendously.
Counselor: The best definition of PTSD I ever heard: it's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
DAVID: Just, its like this weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It's all because of WGBH and Frontline. It helped me, and if there's a person like me, theres a hundred, if there's a hundred, then there's a thousand. The future's very clear. I get my bachelors, get accepted to medical school, from then, you know, Dr. Nash, you're looking at him.