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Safe at home, a soldier struggles with PTSD

Sunday - 1/8/2012, 1:01am  ET

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Spc. Paul Raines, now with the Maryland National Guard, watches his youngest daughter, Maggie, 9 months old, with his wife, Jessica, and their son, Jonathan, 7. Raines has post-traumatic stress disorder following a 2005 deployment to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. (Frederick News-Post/Graham Cullen)

Paul Raines saw a close friend burn to death after an explosion in Baghdad. Another soldier in his unit was shot in the neck, and Raines experienced almost daily mortar and rocket attacks.

When he returned in 2006 after a year in Iraq, the Frederick man chalked these up as the realities of war. He did not seek treatment.

Five years later, Raines -- who joined the National Guard after being discharged from the Army -- says he has post-traumatic stress disorder and a litany of medical issues that have led to a downward spiral in his life.

"It's still fresh as the day I got back," Raines, 30, said in an interview at his home. "The day-to-day stuff, that's the thing that upsets me the most."

Now that he is seeking help, Raines said, the problem is bureaucracy. The National Guard and the Army go back and forth over who should address his problems because they arose when he served in Iraq.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not give him full disability benefits, Raines said, because he continues to serve in the Guard, which he joined after four years of Army active duty ended in 2007.

He is a specialist with the 291st Army Liaison Team out of Adelphi and his contract runs until 2013.

He cannot drive through downtown Frederick because it reminds him of Baghdad. He wakes up in the middle of the night unaware that he is safe at home. He often forgets whether he has eaten that day.

"It's not fair to be left with a broken husband who, with some time, can come back to being a provider, a dad, a superhero," said his wife, Jessica Raines. "Those are the scars and the wounds that people don't understand. I just want my husband back. I want him healthy and happy and whole."

'Trying to forget'

Starting in November 2005, Raines -- a member of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., -- was stationed in Baghdad. While on patrol, the Army specialist was responsible for collecting enemy intelligence.

"There were times when we had no chance to breathe," Raines said. "We were constantly bombarded with mortars. ... We had snipers around. They were firing on our patrols. We were constantly on vigilance."

No diagnosis was made when Gaines returned from war. He completed a post-deployment assessment, and at the time did not indicate any problems.

He tried to go on with his life, he said.

"When I got back, I didn't know what I was dealing with," he said. "All of us were drinking like fishes -- just trying to forget -- and that wears off after a while."

Raines no longer drinks. He quit in 2008. The problems only got worse from there, he said.

His PTSD symptoms began to get severe in early 2009 and have continued ----including anger outbursts, depression and flashbacks.

Raines checked himself into a psychiatric facility for a week last July after having suicidal thoughts. He had been seeing a counselor before that, but those meetings were infrequent.

The stay temporarily calmed him, according to Raines' wife, but without the structured environment, he relapsed.

He needs a medical discharge to begin receiving full benefits. With that, Raines said he could get additional medical help -- including access to an inpatient program -- and some financial assistance.

But nobody will take that step, the couple said.

"They just leave him damaged and walk away and don't even care," Jessica Raines said. "You feel like you're fighting a war with your own country. He fought for our country."

Slowly, Raines is getting assistance. Just before Christmas, he began a PTSD outpatient program.

Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, spokesman for the Maryland Army National Guard, said privacy concerns prevent him from going into detail about Raines' circumstances. He did say that members of Raines' unit have offered financial and other assistance.

"We're still in the process of trying to help him get the care and the treatment that he needs," Kohler said. "Both from his previous deployment, and then the injuries that he may have incurred in the line of duty (with the National Guard)."

'He's their superhero'

Paul Raines met his wife shortly after returning from Iraq. Married in December 2009, the couple have three children, ages 9 months, 3 years and 7 years.

They no longer sleep in the same bed, Jessica said. Raines wakes up in the middle of the night with flashbacks, and it can take him time to recover. Jessica often has to hold him down and reassure him about where he is.

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