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Veteran creates service to help soldiers with PTSD

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Christopher Bennett Christopher Bennett
PHOENIX -

The war in Afghanistan is into its 12th year and during the week of Oct. 1, the total casualty figures from the war has topped 2,000 Americans dead.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost our country dearly in both lives and money and a lot of people just want to forget about it and move on.

Easier said than done, especially for those who served when our nation needed them most.

"A lot of us made that choice to stand up for our country and do what obviously needed to be done," said Christopher Bennett, a former U.S. marine.

October 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9-11 attacks, the first U.S. warplanes struck Al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Afghanistan.

CIA teams and U.S. ground troops soon followed.

So did marines like Christopher Bennett, who signed up on September 12, 2001.

"I joined the day after September 11th...September 12th I went down to the recruiting office and signed up," said Bennett.

But now, 11 years to the day, U.S. and NATO troops are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan.

80,000 U.S. troops remain in harms way.

"I deployed in 2005," said Bennett.

Bennett, like thousands of others who signed up after 9-11, ended up not in Afghanistan, but in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein and seize his weapons of mass destruction.

They got Saddam but the weapons were never found. Still, the fighting was fierce.

Bennett found himself in one of the war's deadliest places for American GI's and marines, Ramadi.

Deep inside the Sunni triangle, marines deployed to Ramadi didn't have long to acclimate themselves.

"I think my first experience was 30 minutes in country," said Bennett.

He wasn't hurt, even after two tours.

"I lost some good friends over there," said Bennett.

The scars were more emotional.

"My scars are obviously internally, other people suffered more than me," said Bennett.

But Christopher Bennett returned years later a changed man.

"Obviously going through that, seeing that--experiences shake anybody up," said Bennett.

The number of vets returning to the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is skyrocketing.

Chris is one of them.

"When I got back from my last tour I ran into some issues. I was very self destructive," said Bennett. "I was having difficulties with anxiety, sleeping, restlessness, anger; I didn't know what was going on with me."

Chris returned to his home in Michigan, to a wife and two children who didn't know him, and a military that no longer wanted him.

"I got diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and almost immediately after that I was released from the military," said Bennett.

No one in his family could understand what was happening to Chris.

The result was a family which could no longer support him and a divorce.

"I literally destroyed almost everything I worked for," said Bennett.

Chris moved to Arizona to attempt a fresh start.
    
Now a single parent, he sought out treatment and he met his new wife.

"You start finding that cure and to me, that cure was my family," said Bennett. "My relationship with my wife is clear, my relationship with my kids has skyrocketed."

"Many of these individuals who return come back with tremendous anxiety and PTSD," said Dr. John Mather, a neuropsychologist.

Eventually, Chris met Dr. John Mather, who is not Chris's doctor, but a friend who has helped many PTSD victims.

"These individuals, our soldiers, our heroes, are returning different people than when they left," said Mather.

Dr. Mather is aiding Chris another way, by helping the former marine reach out to other vets with PTSD.

"I am founding a non-profit organization--calling it Families and Soldiers Together, FAST," said Bennett.

"His taking up this cause has been incredibly therapeutic for him," said Mather.

They have a plan: to help vets in need discover how important family can be.

"You are going to have bad days and are they ready to have those bad days with you, because they have to, or you are going to be having those bad days alone," said Bennett.

But the fight goes on and more and more vets will return to a country that's tired of war.

"I think people are so exhausted with the negativity of the war," said Bennett.

But to stop the epidemic of post-traumatic stress, it will take more vets like Chris to step out of the shadows, because no one is going to step out for them.

"The war has touched everybody so it really is a community based effort to help get these veterans out there to help them," said Bennett. "Say 'Hey, let's do this together'; this is a way for spouses and the children to say 'Dad, Mom, please, we'll go through it with you."

Bennett hopes to launch his service for vets in November with counseling and legal services, and a full slate of family activities.

Families and Soldiers Together
www.fastinitiative.org

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