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July 7, 2008
Soldier in Iconic Picture Dead at 31
It is good to be reminded at times of the human cost of our effort in Iraq. And that cost is born by our nation's finest - and the scars are not always visible.
In March,2003 a picture flashed around the world of a young American soldier carrying an Iraqi child to safety. The look of determination on the young man's face as well as the look of confusion and fear on the face of the child spoke to millions around the world about America's efforts in Iraq at that time.
But Army Pfc. Joseph Dwyer - the man in the picture - never recovered emotionally from his service. Enlisting two days after 9/11, Joseph came home seeing specters of the enemy everywhere. He shot up his Texas apartment while holding police at bay for hours. Then, after moving to North Carolina, his personal demons apparently followed him as police found his body late last month - a victim of the war as surely as if he had been killed on the battlefield:
The war that made him a hero at 26 haunted him to the last moments of his life.I don't necessarily see how one can say that Dwyer did not receive "adequate" treatment when he was an inpatient at two separate facilities. Perhaps Dwyer should have been permanently committed given the depth of his anxiety. But such committments are voluntary and few returning vets submit to that regimen.
"He loved the picture, don't get me wrong, but he just couldn't get over the war," his mother, Maureen Dwyer, said by telephone from her home in Sunset Beach, N.C. "He wasn't Joseph anymore. Joseph never came home."
Dwyer's parents said they tried to get help for their son, appealing to Army and Veterans Affairs officials. Although he was treated off and on in VA facilities, he was never able to shake his anxieties.
An April report by the Rand Corp. said serious gaps in treatment exist for the 1 in 5 U.S. troops who exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression following service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Half of those troops who experience the disorder sought help in the past year, the report said, and those who did often got "minimally adequate treatment."
"He went away to inpatient treatments, none of it worked," his father, Patrick Dennis Dwyer, said. "And the problem is there are not adequate resources for post-traumatic stress syndrome."
After a PTSD program in Durham, N.C., turned Dwyer away because of a lack of space, Maureen Dwyer said her son received inpatient care for six months at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, beginning last August. After doctors discharged him in March, she said, his anxieties returned with such intensity that Dwyer's wife, Matina, 30, took their daughter Meagan, 2, and moved out five days later.
Maureen Dwyer said her son married a month before his deployment. She said her son began experiencing serious depression soon after his vehicle in Iraq was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2003. She said his problems continued after his deployment ended and he returned to an Army facility in Texas.
No, Dwyer was a casualty of war. And we should honor his service and his life as we honor those who fall on the battlefield. His tragedy, while different in scope, is no less horrible than that of any other family who has lost a loved one in the War on Terror.