William B Allen says he can now help combat troops with counselling
Specialist William B Allen is a US Army combat medic who served two tours in Iraq, spending 27 months there. He recently completed a three-week treatment programme for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Center at Fort Hood, the largest US military base in the world.
Being a combat medic, we're on 24 hours a day. We had mass casualty events, female suicide bombers blowing up hospitals three times in a row. We'd be the ones to respond to that. I was always responding to these IED (improvised explosive device) blasts. I was blown up several times.
When you're back in America you never stop being hyper-vigilant. Insomnia set in for about four months. I was going bananas, I was going crazy.
Eventually no matter who you are, war will affect you. War will change your soul
I started drinking, substance abuse, I had suicidal ideas, even acted on those. I was tired of having the nightmares, I wanted to go see my dead friends.
I was in rehab for substance abuse for a month. I went to the psych ward. At that time treatment was a one-pronged attack of "here take this pill". The mental healthcare system was so backed up they couldn't do counselling in co-operation with that. I finally started seeing counsellors, some of them were hit or miss.
Then they put me in this programme. They said you're going to do reiki, massage, yoga, acupuncture, and from my medical mind my first thought was voodoo medicine. I thought maybe they'd shake chicken bones.
When I came through this door I was angry at everything. Everything set me off. I actually feared I was too angry to even be a qualified candidate.
But I came in with an open mind, because I'll do anything to get better. I want to be the guy that I was prior to my 27 months in combat.
Within a couple of days of going through this complementary alternative therapy, I felt it. I'm a realist and I felt the energy, I felt them doing things. I can't rave enough about how much they've done for me. There is definitely a calming effect.
I'm ready to graduate. I'm not Pollyanna-ish, with rose-coloured glasses, thinking that Monday morning when I show up for work there isn't going to be a bump in the road.
But the coping techniques, I use them day-to-day. I sleep better now, last week I would go to bed and sleep with no medication all night, using the breathing techniques, the relaxation techniques.
The difficult part would be returning to combat. Going back as a line medic and dealing with bullet wounds, the amputations, the horrible deaths... I'm not real sure that I want to do that.
But I could help with other aspects - counselling, nursing. They've piqued my interest in the counselling part. The soul, the psyche needs to be healed too... all things have to be taken into account, and at this point I would not mind deploying in an aspect like that.
The unfortunate thing is that this is just not that big a facility. It facilitates 12 soldiers at one time, where there could be 1,200 soldiers that probably need to go through.
Everyone is affected. I don't know one person that has not been affected. Eventually no matter who you are, war will affect you. War will change your soul.