Iraq veteran finds coming home tougher than expected

Courtesy photo Trevor Lyons, 22, was surprised when he was told he had left over psychological issues from serving with the Marine Corps in Iraq in 2006.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

He thought his reaction to the things he experienced in war was normal and felt like he was pretty well adjusted with skills to offer.

Understanding combat, pressure, danger and being able to emerge a leader. Knowing what it felt like to be shot at, targeted and managing to overcome and accomplish the mission — all skills that should easily transfer to a successful, lifelong career in law enforcement.

“It’s one of the few areas I could apply my Marine skills to, it just appealed to me,” he said.

“(Being a police officer) was like one of the few things I ever put forth an effort to in my whole life. This was something I actually put out for.”

But all 22-year-old Trevor Lyons’ hopes and goals were crushed when in the space of a month, he got, then lost the job he wanted more than anything.

And at the same time, he discovered the experiences he expected to be an asset were his downfall.

In the fall, Lyons was hired by the Clovis Police Department under the condition he passed a series of tests and screenings.

The department was eager to get him off to the academy in mid-January so he could be certified, he said.

He did physical, psychological and written testing, computer classes, ride-alongs with higher ranking officers and had even received his uniform and gear.

He had invited family and was proudly anticipating the day he would become a Clovis police officer.

Called to the chief’s office one morning, Lyons said he was shocked to learn his psychological evaluation had not been favorable.

He said he was told he had issues from Iraq that he needed to deal with before he could be a police officer and was given two days to decide if he would resign or appeal the decision.

Lyons never saw it coming. He hadn’t really even considered he might have issues.

“It’s not something you talk about when you’re with your war buddies. You pat yourself on your chest and tell your war stories. You don’t talk about your deeper psychological stuff,” he said.

Sure, he flinches at loud unexpected noises and sometimes finds himself strategically moving behind walls, not liking the feeling of exposure, but he sees it as a normal response to experiencing combat.

“I thought I was fine mentally. The psych evaluation was the least of my concerns actually. … I’ve got some paranoia issues, (but) that’s just normal. I’ve been shot at dozens of times.”

Police Chief Steve Sanders said policy prevents him from addressing Lyon’s employment situation.

“As much as I would like to, because it is an important issue, I am bound to privilege,” he said.

The Clovis Police Department adheres to state certification standards and officers must meet those qualifications, he said.

Those standards require that a recruit, “after examination by a certified psychologist, is free of any emotional or mental condition that might adversely affect his performance as a police officer or prohibit him from successfully completing a prescribed basic law enforcement training required by the Law Enforcement Training Act,” according to the law enforcement reference guide maintained by the New Mexico State Police.

For Lyons, who recently returned to his prior job in security, the situation has forced him to think about those months he spent in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006.

Watching his best friend die beside him from a sniper’s bullet, having his humvee blown up by an explosive and feeling the sand from a barricade spraying in his face as it took a bullet for him, all part of the job he went to do.

But there is pride too. He went in a grunt and became a squad leader, working to accomplish the objective he was given.

That pride was never placed in question until he left the military in July and reentered the civilian world.

Now his pride is tinged with shame and the feeling he’s been labled damaged goods.

“In the Marine infantry, your taught that you’re the best. You think you’re hard, you think you’re awesome, you think you’re invincible,” he said.

“You think you can put it to use somewhere else, then you try it and you get shot down. … I feel like nobody really gives a damn about what I’ve seen, what I’ve done, the service I put forth. I went over there, I was following orders, I did what I was told, I came back alive and now I come back and it’s nothing. Where’s the love?”

Unsure if he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or some other condition, Lyons has scheduled an appointment for a second evaluation, this time hoping for answers.

What comes next, he doesn’t know.

“If they say there’s something wrong with me, then I’m going to see what we can do,” he said.

“If they say I’m OK though… I don’t know what I’m doing with my life right now. I might take my ACTs and start college.”

Experts think PTSD occurs:

• In about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans

• In as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans

• In about 6 percent to 11 percent of veterans of the Afghanistan war (Enduring Freedom), or in 6 to 11 veterans out of 100.

• In about 12 percent to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq war (Iraqi Freedom)

Other Iraq combat facts

• About one out of three, or 33 percent of service members from Iraq have been seen in Veteran’s Affairs mental health facilities in the year they return from combat.

• Around 19 percent of service members from Iraq have mental health problems.

• Studies show service members with mental health problems are less likely to seek help because they think they would, be seen as weak, be treated differently, or that others would lose confidence in them

Source: The United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs, www.ncptsd.va.govx