WOODBURY - Experts say up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans return with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those numbers include two men from Long Island who returned from deployment with hidden scars.
Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, an Army medic from Mt. Sinai, was known as a gentle man and a practical joker. He was never the same after returning from Iraq, according to family.
Upon his return, Dwyer needed to sit with his back to the wall and near a door everywhere he went. He also suffered from hallucinations that he was back on the battlefield. He was in and out of treatment for years, at one point taking nine prescriptions a day, before turning to self-medication and huffing cleaning solvent. He ultimately died in 2008 after taking too much.
"I don't believe Joseph wanted to die,” says Dwyer’s sister Christine. “He just couldn't live anymore the way he was living ... and there was no solution. There was nothing to help him with the adjustment back."
Thomas Ryan’s brother Bartholomew, a decorated Marine, also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and turned to drugs. In February of last year, Ryan was sent to the Nassau County Jail after a DUI arrest. He was found by corrections officers the next morning hanging in his cell by a bed sheet.
"If we were able to get the right help for him … if he was able to find the right help … maybe things would be different,” says Thomas Ryan.
Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.