"Hounshell, 21, who went AWOL from the Army after a 14-month tour in Iraq, is trying to start over, free from the military service that he said was a constant reminder of his one-time mental problems and fractious run-ins with his Army command."
by Chris Vaughn, Star-Telegram, posted April 22, 2006

The nightmares and panic attacks don’t come as often for Jacob Hounshell anymore.

His memories from Iraq, while still vivid, don’t provoke the same anxiety, and the suicide note he left in May 2005 is no longer a harrowing threat to his parents.

"I have a few bad days, but I take them as they come, and I’ve learned to deal with it," he said.

Hounshell, 21, who went AWOL from the Army after a 14-month tour in Iraq, is trying to start over, free from the military service that he said was a constant reminder of his one-time mental problems and fractious run-ins with his Army command.

The Army discharged him last week, 14 months early from his four-year enlistment, after he finished a monthlong jail sentence.

"I’m happy as hell," the Brownwood man said. "I can go on with my life."

Much has been written in the last two years about the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder in returning Iraq veterans and the programs set up by the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs to treat it.

About one in five soldiers or Marines returning from Iraq reported a "mental health concern," and 35 percent sought mental-health services, according to an Army study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March.

Not all of those numbers are related to post-traumatic stress; some are marital or financial, but the military has started a number of programs to help soldiers adapt to life back home after being in a war zone for a year at a time.

Rare, though, is the family that opens the door to its life the way the Hounshells did last May, when Bobbie and Larry Hounshell called the Star-Telegram because they didn’t know anyone else to call. The Star-Telegram profiled them in a front-page story in June.

Jacob Hounshell, a private first class in a scout platoon who was cited for his quick thinking during battle, had gone AWOL from his unit at Fort Hood with his parents’ help.

He was suicidal, angry and emotional, and he couldn’t sleep.

He and his family said that his commanders were indifferent to his problems and that the highly touted mental-health programs were not helpful.

The Army denied both accusations.

"We’re not trying to hurt our soldiers overseas, and we didn’t want this fight with the Army," his mother said at the time. "But my son had problems when he came home, and all he was told was, ‘Drive on.’"

In a small town, the Hounshells paid a price for going public. They said many people shunned them, made hateful phone calls and were quick to judge.

Eventually Bobbie Hounshell wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, asking for understanding from a mother who couldn’t say "that we were right or we were wrong. It is a decision based on love and emotion."

For nine months, Jacob Hounshell stayed at his house in Brownwood, eventually finding a steady job. In February, he learned that a federal warrant was about to be issued.

That day he drove to Fort Hood and surrendered. Reassigned to his old unit, he reported for duty to a different commander and first sergeant, who he said treated him respectfully.

He said that he was offered counseling by Army psychologists but that he declined because he had already soured on the system.

"I just wanted to deal with it like I had been," he said.

In a summary court-martial in early March, an officer found Hounshell guilty of being absent without leave. The officer sentenced him to 30 days, to be served in the Bell County Jail.

It was the maximum punishment for a private first class.

Hounshell was released in early April and returned to Fort Hood, where the Army started his discharge. He received a general discharge under honorable conditions, he said.

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division, said he could not discuss the terms of Hounshell’s discharge because of privacy concerns.

His father said the jail time seemed to change his son for the better.

"He had his freedom taken away, and he knows what that feels like now," he said. "He’s not interested in losing it again. He just wants to get into a routine, get up and go to work, and come home again."

IN THE KNOW

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric ailment that can occur in people who experience or witness life-threatening events such as combat, natural disasters, terrorism, serious accidents or violent assaults.

Sufferers often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping and feel detached or estranged. The symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to impair the person’s daily life.

An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress in their lives. Women (10.4 percent) are twice as likely as men (5 percent) to develop the disorder.

The ailment is treated with talk therapy and drug therapy.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD