Can Service Save Us?

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Eric Thayer for Time

Members of the veterans group Team Rubicon work on storm damaged homes in Moore, Okla., May 27.

There was absolutely no way Ian Smith was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. He was sure of it.

He was O.K. He was living with his girlfriend in a suburb of Nashville working three jobs — mowing lawns, delivering pizzas, cleaning a local church. He was carrying a 4.0 average at Volunteer State Community College. Yes, he’d seen some terrible stuff during two tours in Iraq. But others had been through much worse. He’d never been wounded. He was alive.

But it was a strange sort of alive. He lived on his couch, with his pistol. He didn’t sleep much. The only way he could get to sleep was by getting drunk, so he got drunk every night and slept with his gun under the pillow. He had gained 60 lb. since leaving the Army in February 2009. He drank more and more. His girlfriend left him. He put the gun to his head several times. “He absolutely refused to believe he was suffering from PTSD,” said his buddy Mike Pereira, a fellow Army intelligence analyst. “But I wasn’t going to let him alone.”

Pereira was working for a veterans’ service organization called the Mission Continues, in St. Louis. He heard Ian’s anguish over the phone and over the headset when they played Call of Duty together. Mike had lived through some tough times too after leaving the Army. He too had been living alone, on the couch. He too had put a gun to his head. But he was living with a purpose now. And he kept after Ian to come to St. Louis: Come for a weekend, come do a service project.

Full thing here.