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Overcoming PTSD: Oklahoma County program helps veterans stay out of jail

Brandon Douglas, of Oklahoma City, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq. He served in the Marines as a gunnery sergeant.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: July 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm •  Published: July 12, 2013

Brandon Douglas was not hesitant to join the Marines. But his parents were opposed.

“The military is a place for degenerates, people that don't have money,” they told him. “People with no future.”

But he was bored with college. He called a Marine Corps recruiter in the middle of a blizzard to tell him, “I'm ready to join — now.” He met the recruiter at 7 p.m., listened to the recruiter's spiel and two days later was on his way to training.

Douglas joined and stayed in the Marines for 12 years. He had planned a career in the Marines — until post-traumatic stress disorder tried to ruin his life.

Douglas recently graduated from the Oklahoma County veterans diversion program, a program that helps veterans facing criminal charges get access to services they need. Once they complete the program, their charges are dropped.

The program is a collaborative effort among the Oklahoma County district attorney's office, the public defender's office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Administration and NorthCare.

Brandon's wife, Jennifer Douglas, said she has seen a change in her husband since he has been in the program.

“Brandon is a better person now than the guy I married,” she said. “ ... A year later, it's like it gets better. You can work through a lot of things.”

Battle tested

In late 2004, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the unit Brandon Douglas was a part of, was sent to Iraq. Its sole purpose in Iraq was to aid in the takeover of Fallujah in November 2004, he said.

The Second Battle of Fallujah was one of the biggest military conflicts of the Iraq War. Douglas, a gunnery sergeant, was a helicopter crew chief, serving as a door gunner.

About three years after Brandon Douglas returned from Iraq, Jennifer Douglas noticed him having nightmares. One night, he almost hit Jennifer in his sleep.

“The next morning, I was like, ‘What is wrong with you?' He had no recollection whatsoever,” she said.

She was in nursing school and had recently completely her mental health rotation. She told him she thought he should talk to a doctor about PTSD. At first, he blew it off but ended up going to appease her.

He was diagnosed with PTSD, but the diagnosis was not listed in his files. Military doctors offered him a psychiatric evaluation, but he wanted to take the medication and move on.

“We don't want to be tagged with that — ever,” he said. “ ... It's kind like, ‘You're weak,' and at my rank, I was leading Marines, so there was no way I was going to be weak.”

But the medication didn't help. Instead, it made the nightmares more vibrant, almost like they were in 3-D.

Military members who have not seen combat and the general population have a PTSD rate of about 5 percent, according to federal government statistics.

Meanwhile, military members returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan screen positive for PTSD symptoms at a rate of 20 percent, according to those statistics. Anonymous reporting surveys show rates as high as 40 percent or more.

Life is a challenge

In December 2010, things were getting stressful. Brandon Douglas was the boss at a recruiting station in Oklahoma City, and his bosses were pressuring him to get better recruits. Meanwhile, Jennifer Douglas was pregnant and on bed rest.

“And his PTSD just took off,” Jennifer Douglas said.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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