'Real Warrior' describes post-traumatic stress
January 12, 2010
WASHINGTON (Jan. 11, 2010) -- When Staff Sgt. Megan Krause returned home from a deployment in Iraq in 2006, she thought the scariest moments of her life were over.
At her homecoming, "I ran to my mother in that hangar; we both cried tears of joy," said Krause, now an Army Reserve medic attached to a combat engineering unit in Pennsylvania. "I told her it was over and I was fine."
"Boy, was I wrong."
Krause later found herself waging a terrifying war with post-traumatic stress disorder. She described the battle and her road to recovery here today during the Real Warriors Campaign session at the 2010 Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
Krause said she hit rock bottom while a student at Penn State University about two years after her deployment.
"It was when I found myself face down in the mud pit, in the middle of a pigpen in State College, Pa., running from the insurgents that I thought were chasing me, that I realized I had not yet survived," Krause said. "I might not have been having suicidal ideations, but I was well on my way to killing myself."
Krause said she drank a bottle of red wine every night just to get to sleep.
"It's scary because you know you party harder than the average college kid and then get behind the wheel of your car because you just don't care anymore," she said. "It's scary because you know you're not going to class or work and you're throwing your life away."
"And you don't know how to stop the cycle."
Her nights, she said, were filled with nightmares of explosions and friends she couldn't save in time.
"I didn't want to die, but I wasn't leaving myself with many other options - until I asked for help," she said.
Help came in abundance, she said. "My [Reserve] unit wanted nothing more than to help me. They encouraged me to talk to the VA, talk to them." Her first sergeant admitted he, too, was seeking help for post-traumatic stress and told Krause it was the best decision he ever made.
"His words were ringing in my head that scary night as I rolled over [in bed] and called [the VA] for help," she said. "I knew I couldn't keep going down the path I had chosen." Two "battle buddies" showed up at 3 a.m. to drive her to the hospital.
Through the VA, Krause found the help she needed and, despite her initial embarrassment, "I discovered there was no shame in admitting that I was in trouble and needed help," she said.
"In fact, I earned more respect for seeking help and facing my problems head on than I ever had while failing to be the [noncommissioned officer] I wanted to be."
Wanting to help others waging similar psychological battles, Krause volunteered to share her story through the Real Warriors Campaign.
This initiative, launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, features stories of servicemembers who have sought treatment and continue to maintain successful military or civilian careers, according to the campaign's Web site. These efforts are aimed at combating the stigma associated with seeking psychological health care and treatment.
Krause appears in several public service announcements on the campaign's site at realwarriors.net. The response to her coming forth with her story has been amazing, she said.
A short time ago, Krause said she received a late-night call from a college friend, also a veteran, who had seen her PSA.
He "was driving his Mustang down the back roads of Pennsylvania at 70 mph, drunk, willing himself to turn into a tree," she said, fighting back tears.
Her friend was the same "battle buddy" who had driven her to the hospital a year prior, "and now he needed a return favor."
He asked her to tell him her story and she poured forth every detail -- the sleepless nights, drinking, terror, stress and that "moment of clarity, all the while begging him to pull over to the side of the road."
He did pull over and, like Krause, sought help for his post-traumatic stress.
"He said, 'Promise me you will keep doing what you're doing because there are people out there who need to hear it,'" she said.
Krause encouraged conference attendees to use the Real Warriors site, which includes links to resources, a live chat room, and information about the Defense Centers of Excellence Outreach Center, a 24/7 call center staffed by health resource consultants. The Outreach Center can be reached toll-free at 866-966-1020 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Krause said coming forth takes courage, but it's well worth the effort.
"Our stories need to be shared with anyone who has struggled or may struggle in the future, so they too can win this terrifying battle," she said.
"I'm winning the battle with PTSD and you can too."