October 31, 2013

Documentary shines light on Maine’s PTSD victims

The realities of war become the state’s problems afterward.

(Continued from page 1)

The film goes on to feature a “veterans block” Liberty created in 2011 at the Kennebec County jail. It’s reserved for inmates who have served in the military and, in a variety of homecomings gone bad, find themselves behind bars for everything from burglary to attempted murder.

Even as they await trial or serve their time, the onetime soldiers are plugged into a veterans support system aimed at getting them back on their feet once their legal troubles are behind them.

They also get cut a little slack: When Liberty and his jail staff realized that the sound of cells locking in quick succession sounded eerily like a machine gun firing, the automatic locking device was switched off.

Complementing the veterans block is the two-year-old Veterans Treatment Court, run by Justice Nancy Mills at the Kennebec County Courthouse – an innovative attempt to balance recent crimes against society with more distant service to country.

During an interview in her courtroom, Mills said, “The victim’s wishes are taken into consideration, certainly, by the district attorney and by me. But I’m happy to report that most of (the victims) understand that the veterans who are going into the program need help.”

The film’s real strength is rooted in the veterans themselves: the sheriff, determined to help others who share his emotional scars; the inmate who remembers losing eight battle buddies but can’t recall the beating that left him charged with aggravated assault; the female veteran who was raped by her fellow soldiers in a war zone and now anesthetizes herself with alcohol.

Most of their stories end on a hopeful note. One, tragically, doesn’t. Taken together, they give voice to a social crisis that will undoubtedly get worse before it gets better.

Standing outside a veterans shelter operated by Bread of Life Ministries in Augusta, Executive Director Dean Lachance ticks off the heightened risk factors – homelessness, physical and mental-health disabilities, substance abuse – that Maine’s returning veterans face.

“Our country, our communities, our nonprofits, our faith communities, are absolutely not prepared for the epidemic that we face today,” warns Lachance.

As if to underscore that point, the film concludes with 178 members of the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion leaving Maine last month for a deployment to Afghanistan that will last until June.

“Here we go again!” the soldiers chant as they march, some for the second or third time, off to war.

And when it’s over, here again they will return.

The debut of “A Matter of Duty,” free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at USM’s Hannaford Hall. The second public showing, one of many planned throughout the state, will follow on Nov. 8 at Colby College’s Ostrove Auditorium in Waterville. It will also air repeatedly on MPBN over the next two months, starting on Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.

In other words, you cannot – and should not – miss it.

It’s a story all of Maine needs to hear.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:bnemitz@pressherald.com
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