He is telling stories from behind his camera. He is hoping that his documentary called, “Struggle Beyond the Decade” will educate and even lead to real solutions for veterans struggling with PTSD.
According to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year. Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year. Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s.”
A retired Army Veteran Sergeant First Class, Aaron Martinez, is trying to change these statistics and help his fellow soldiers find a better way to recovery. Mr. Martinez is a second generation Mexican American. He was born and raised in Des Moines, IA. In 1999 he joined the army.
“I enlisted as an Armored Crewman on M1A1 Abrams Tank and served 5 deployments and just over 15 years,” Mr. Martinez said. “In 2003 I deployed to Fallujah Iraq for the war on global terrorism, followed by two more deployments is support of Operation Iraqi Freedom”
The Issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very personal issue for Aaron Martinez because like many veterans he experienced it as well.
“After years of dealing with Post traumatic stress, TBI [Traumatic brain Injury], depression and the deep grieving from the realities and impacts of war and it could no longer hide behind my day to day life,” Mr. Martinez explained the moment when he realized something had to change.
Personally, Mr. Martinez never stopped working on his recovery. To help himself recover he volunteered, mentored, did internships and community projects. He also went on to get his Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Arts from Grandview University. He explained that his road of struggles started when he was a sophomore in the university.
“I began to feel the indifference, and limbo of culture shock that has had tendencies to isolate and lead to suicide for many other veterans,” he explained the feelings he had that marked the beginning of his recovery journey.
A somber experience was the push that made Aaron Martinez decide that something had to be done. In February of 2016 one of the comrades he served with in Iraq lost the battle with PTSD and took his own life.
“So, I woke up and said Enough is Enough, I didn’t know how I would do it but action need not wait on funding or support,” Mr. Martinez said.
He sprung to action doing what he knew he always could do well and enjoyed doing it. Since he was small he loved to use a camera to tell stories, so he took the camera and set on his journey of giving veterans a voice, telling stories and looking for answers.
“My goal was direct, help minimize veteran suicide through a crisis resolve structure, rehabilitated relationships and educate,” he stated his purpose for doing what he does. “So, I grabbed my camera and the few dollars I had and set out to listen and capture veteran perspectives and begin to help educate the masses on a problem that was leading 22 veterans to suicide a day.”
In order to educate veteran support programs, families of veterans and above all show other veterans that they are not alone in this struggle, Aaron Martinez decided to go around the country interviewing veterans.
“What I discover after 6 states and 20 veterans later was a multi-dimensional issue and the many non-transparent problems that it seemed, that no one wanted to discover,” he shared his observations.
When Mr. Martinez started this project, there was a small group of people participating and together they formed, “alliance, a chain.” They connected with each other, they formed bonds and were there for each other if one of them was coming close to a dangerous edge. Mr. Martinez shared that it was a positive kind of experience, but another impactful event almost brought his project to a full stop.
“On October 1, 2016 my close friend took his own life and sent a shock wave through my spirit, although he wasn’t aware of my project this still took my breath away,” Mr. Martinez shared his painful experience. “This put truth to statement that you won’t understand or comprehend veteran suicide until it impacts you personally. The significance of his death spawned a larger movement like the James R Barrett foundation committed to research and awareness of PTSD.”
While mourning the death of his close friend, Mr. Martinez realized that this project was too big and too important to stop. That is why he went to release the first season of “Struggle Beyond the Decade” on YouTube. He was delighted that this documentary had a big impact on the dialogue about better understanding for families and veterans.
“The success of the first season motivated the sophomore season which was dedicated to veteran to veteran programs and healing modalities that were popping up around the country,” Mr. Martinez explained what the second season of his documentary was about. “In the second season I traveled to Omaha, Martha’s Vineyard, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Texas. Creating a captivating 6-part series that can be viewed in completion for free on YouTube.”
Aaron Martinez traveled to many parts of the United States and while he is in the process of filming the third season, he was observing that the issues of transition continue be a huge challenge to veterans.
“There are many cultural disconnections and unattended consciences that are causing rabbit holes and damaging the dignity of the veteran, especially with those dealing with depression and PTSD and without immediate action the number will only pick up if we toxify the issue,” he explained the problems he sees when he travels filming his documentary.
He also added that after season one of “Struggle Beyond the Decade” he realized that there is a big impact when community acts.
“When allowing veteran culture to be at the front for just a few hours. this may have long lasting impacts in the intermingling of veterans, first responders and civilians,” he stated.
Mr. Martinez believes that “connections that cure, inspiring leadership and a real veteran buffer zone” can be some of the ways to discover a good treatment plan for transitioning veterans.
“We need people that have authority to look at this crisis and find resolve for this issue. Immediate alleviation of toxic leadership and stigma needs to happen at the awareness level, development of strategies that have the long-term health of veterans in mind and not just a risky pharmaceutical resolve. We need folks to stand up and supplement government lack of ownership with this issue and put funding and community leaders in positions to help veterans how have ethical plans to participate and financial supports behind them,” Aaron Martinez stated passionately. “Fixing it with harmful pharmaceutical medications or insensitive healthcare professionals is causing the blame game to the extent that new negative stigmas are being brought on to the VA and veterans are protesting by committing suicide on the property of VA facilities around the US.”
Mr. Martinez believes that it is not fair just to blame the VA for not doing the job right. He thinks that after downsizing of closing out Iraq more veterans entered communities and it is not realistic to expect the VA to be able to handle so much alone.
“This could take time in order to have transformation we need assists trustworthy people, be good listeners, hire teachers and mentors, and outsource to helpful programs like yoga, art, outdoor adventure programs and martial arts to name a few and let veterans help veterans,” Mr. Martinez offered his ideas for finding solutions to deal with the issue. “
“We need people to flat out just show up, to say that they care I have watched state recreational and beautification projects receive massive amounts of funds form large corporations. Where are those people? Nobody wants to touch veteran suicide because it’s a governmental blindfold it doesn’t look good on the resume in fact most people don’t want to talk about it because it may somehow offend their morality or political view on the topic,” Mr. Martinez issued his passionate plea to everyone.
Mr. Martinez strongly believes that veterans need a transition program, a place where they can find such help as academic assistance, counseling for drugs and alcohol addictions, help finding jobs, healing through therapy and with the help of spiritual leaders, physical activities and programs for family care and lending options.
“They need a quality “discharge out program” that offers realistic counseling that understands the important of relief, rehabilitation, development,” he concluded.
Honest dialogue about the PTSD among veterans and real actions with community participation could help to find ways to help save veterans’ lives. Aaron Martinez is trying to lead the charge in finding ways to help other veterans like him, who are struggling with PTSD.
“Struggle Beyond the Decade” veteran created Documentary film series dedicated to finding new dialogue, nontoxic crisis resolution and committed to the war on veteran suicide. And it is available on YouTube.