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The U.S. Army shared a video of Private First Class Nathan Spencer on Thursday, just ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
“The Army supported me the opportunity to do just that, to give to others and protect the ones I love and to better myself as a man and a lawyer,” Spencer says in the video.
“How has serving impacted you?” the U.S. Army asked in a follow-up tweet.
While Spencer’s post was likely supposed to inspire others to share similar stories, it spiraled into a rather morbid thread about the numerous ways serving in the military has entirely changed people’s lives—and not for the better.
There were stories about addiction among veterans.
When I got out of the Army in 2010, I became addicted to heroin. It was my only escape. I lost my family, ended up in prison, in and out of jail more times than I can count, and am now luckily coming up on 2 years clean this August. I'm 30 years old with the mind of an 18 yr old— Mathias The Virus (@mathiasthevirus) May 25, 2019
One of my best friends came back from Afghanistan with severe PTSD that led to heroin addiction. He kicked that, only to trade it for alcoholism. We graduated HS in 2001. Literally his entire adult life has been dealing with the shit he saw.— Katie Lanford (@LilWookieMama) May 24, 2019
My stepbrother served in desert storm. Suffered terrible PTSD and the subsequent alcoholism and addiction issues almost killed him. In the end tho it was the paranoia and nightmares. He always kept a gun under his pillow and accidentally shot himself.— Molly Bess Rector (@mollybessrector) May 25, 2019
The most common accounts were of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health trauma among people who had served in the military.
Ironically, I'd never felt suicidal before that first denial letter. By the time soldiers break free of the indoctrination that PTSD is weakness and have the courage to admit they need help, getting told "you're fine, claim denied," is the most crushing thing ever.— James Marx (@can_o_marx) May 25, 2019
Many continue to suffer from various health issues after they return, and it’s exacerbated by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) reported lack of initiatives to help them out.
I do not know why, but my grandfather's transportation unit came back early from WWI. He had three funny stories he would tell about his service when I was a kid and that was it. My grandmother said he was sick as a dog, digestive system "ruined" when she got him back.— Ain'tNoSpringChicken (@PshrinkEmeritus) May 24, 2019
My cousin came home from Vietnam, and committed suicide.— Riveted Resistance (@AmazonMistress) May 25, 2019
My father’s service gave him 4th stage lung cancer, he died at 61. He wouldn’t let me join when I was 18 because he knew how women are treated.
My BFF served in Iraq, and got severe PTSD from it.
They were all Army.
My grandfather served in this branch & the Navy, he now has Alzheimer's & Dementia; the VA does little to nothing to seriously treat these diseases, they also won't help with financial support to put him in a full time care facility— Skyla Maranda Taylor (@SkyMaranda) May 25, 2019
I have a laundry list of medical issues, severe disability, & PTSD that has all but alienated friends & fam. Can't keep a job & have difficulty interacting w/ ppl. I receive sub-par medical care @ VAMC but it's better than most.— Madison Valentina (@ByteMaddy) May 25, 2019
TL;DR the military ruined my life, kicked rocks
Some detailed health effects veterans suffer because of what they were exposed to during their time at war.
My father served in the Navy between Korea and Vietnam. Inhaled toxic fumes on ship and encouraged to start smoking, got emphysema and other complications, asked VA for help, was told the military already settled and it was too late to apply. He suffocated in his sleep.— DeWayne Lehman (@DeWayneLehman) May 26, 2019
My father proudly served in Vietnam. He died an excruciating death from diabetes complications that may have been the result of agent orange exposure while transporting it. Apparently theres a connection there, but since he couldnt prove it he wasnt eligible for some benefits.— eveghost (@eve_ghost) May 25, 2019
My grandfather also developed cancer that was linked back to exposure to chemicals during the Vietnam war, our military should be getting treated like heros, instead they get shitty pay & healthcare while some of the people they fight to protect have everything handed to them— Brooke Johnson (@amazinisbrooke7) May 25, 2019
Many shared accounts of the suicides of loved ones.
and was found on a park bench. Single gunshot wound to the head.— Jon Ferguson (@Jon_R_Ferguson) May 25, 2019
Just one story of how not all service related deaths come with ribbons or medals. I’m sure there are many more. I haven’t read comments here because it breaks my heart. #VeteransDay
My good friend who just got married redecorated his basement with the contents if his skull because it was preferable to remembering his service— William Sippel (@Sippel_Nipple) May 25, 2019
People shared how some service members bring back the violence into their own homes due to the trauma they’ve experienced.
My brother in law tried to kill his brother after being tapped on the shoulder due to having a flash back from being in Afghanistan at a kids party...— Josh (@ItsJoshyPooh) May 24, 2019
My dad was a VVet and I suffered through his PTSD. I was whipped with a belt for not understanding how to calculate percentages.— thelearningmama (@polishirishmom) May 26, 2019
Others pointed out how recruiters target young, desperate individuals right before it’s time to go to college.
The enlisters prey on 17 year olds that can’t afford college (aka most 17 year olds). Your point is invalid.— lainy (@toxicbritspears) May 25, 2019
War is a reality when you are thinking about enlisting! Understand before you sign up for the college $. Both of my daughters served and one is 100% disabled with PTSD and could care less about college now. I loved my time in the Army but my girls did not. War is HELL!— Leslie E Shirkey Jr (@ShirkeyJr) May 25, 2019
Served 4 years in the Army, including 5 months in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. No traumatic experiences. I used to recommend the military as a way to earn $ for college, but no longer do since those who enlist are now virtually guaranteed to be involved in an unnecessary war— CJ Run (@cryptojane) May 26, 2019
The thread barely has any positive accounts of #WhyIServe.
The Army gave me a new self confidence and pride in myself i had never had before. But.. i also have night terrors and flashbacks that have plagues me since 2006. I have been passed up for promotion because I'm too hard a worker, or they need people with my longevity in the (1/?)— Ichigo Tomago (@RevFoxcraft) May 26, 2019
As a Scout: I met fantastic people, I gained a useful skillset, I grew into a strong leader I got to do some cool shit. Downside: I lost 2 brothers in war, others since then,I became an alcoholic, homeless, depressed,feel useless,VA cares more for money than us yet you do nothing— Litterpatrol2019 (@Litterpatrol201) May 26, 2019
It was obvious the thread had gone in an entirely opposite direction of its intended course.
People called on the VA to finally take action.
I am so sorry for your pain and the loss of your friend and co-worker. When will Veterans Affairs wake up to the travesty that's happening to our WARRIORS: homelessness, PTSD,mental illness, drug addiction to name a few.— Bounty Of Beads It’s Time to Impeach Trump (@bountyofbeads2) May 26, 2019
STOP sweeping these VA problems under the rug. SHAMEFUL
On Saturday, the U.S. Army responded to the experiences in a tweet.
“To everyone who responded to this thread, thank you for sharing your story. Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations,” it wrote. “The Army is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our Soldiers.”
People weren’t satisfied, wanting more than just words.
“Why can’t the U.S. military actually put its time and effort into helping those who served and came back a completely different and damaged person. why do we glorify veterans if we don’t help them after all the trauma they have had to live through and still struggle with,” wrote one user in response.
Mindfulness and actually doing it are two very different things.— Garfield’s Ghost (@Occamsreznor) May 26, 2019
Try harder and do better, particularly when peoples’ lives are at stake
Then Just. Do. It. I am so fucking tired of hearing about how you are going to “take care of us.” The VA is a train wreck. The DOD could care less about doing anything other than saying they cannot confirm Agent Orange exposure. Airborne application= exposure for miles.— Greg Frazier (@GregFraz) May 26, 2019
Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque