• 50°

Support group established to combat PTSD

The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that 20-22 veterans die from suicide every single day.

This August, US Marine and Greenville native Jimmy Moody took his own life at the age of 30.

The shock reverberated among those in the community, but it impacted few more than T.J. Garrard, a fellow Greenville native who battles daily with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Determined not to let his friend’s death be in vain, Garrard set out in search of a solution to one of the nation’s most widespread problems.

“I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say my friends are dying, and I have to find a way to help them,” Garrard said. “To go to Montgomery to the Veteran Affairs Department is just too far away sometimes, and Butler County has a lot of veterans.  Sometimes, people just can’t go to Montgomery to get help.

“So I asked my therapist in Montgomery if there was a way we could start something local in Greenville, so that we could reach people who couldn’t be reached.  If we could save one life, it would be worth it.  The VA granted their permission to go ahead and start it, and that’s what we did.”

And thus began the formation of a local PTSD support group, which meets weekly at the Butler Baptist Association to combat the various issues that are in no way exclusive to veterans.

“Our police officers, our fire fighters and first responders as a whole deal with things that the normal public don’t deal with—death, accidents, horrific sights,” Garrard said. “Everybody handles that stuff differently, and the symptoms of PTSD may not be known because it’s still sort of a taboo subject. 

“But anybody from any walk of life who deals with a traumatic experience can suffer from it. And because of that, especially in veterans but also in society as a whole, the suicide rate is increasing.  And there’s got to be something that we can do about it to stop it.”

Garrard, a servant in the Alabama National Guard and a 10-year veteran with the United States Army, had his unit activated between 2008 and 2010 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He and his unit were stationed in COB (Central Operating Base) Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq, where they established convoy security and delivered M1A1s, tanks, small arms fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and more to other locations around Iraq, including Mosul and Baghdad.

Life continued for Garrard in that manner for a year, but even after he got home, the experience remained with him.

“When I came home, I realized something wasn’t right,” Garrard said. “And through good family support, I asked for help.  The first and only help we knew to get was through the Veteran Affairs Department in Montgomery.

“They’re backlogged because there are a lot of veterans, but they did help.  They set me up with a licensed therapist who allowed me to talk about what was going on.  Since then, it’s been a struggle dealing with PTSD through medication, through therapy… learning to live again, basically.”

Since that day, Garrard’s mission has been to help others do the same.  The method in each meeting is to take participants’ problems, break them into digestible, manageable pieces and tackle them one Tuesday at a time.

“This past Tuesday, we discussed self-forgiveness,” Garrard said. “A lot of times, from veterans and police officers to victims of domestic abuse, we blame ourselves for what is happening to us.  ‘If I hadn’t put myself in this situation, if I hadn’t done this or that, etc.’  The subject changes from week to week, but that was the subject last week and it was a really good session.”

Garrard added that the weekly meetings have been a help to him and others, but there are still many—veteran and otherwise— in the community who continue to suffer in silence.

“We’re doing this because I have several friends that I served with and grew up with that have committed suicide.  We have to find a way to save their lives.  These meetings are completely open to anybody.  Yes, we’d love for veterans to be there, and Butler County has lots of veterans.  But this is open to first responders, victims of domestic abuse and anyone who is suffering silently from traumatic experiences.

“We’re doing this because I have several friends that I served with and grew up with that have committed suicide,” Garrard said. “We have to find a way to save their lives. 

“These meetings are completely open to anybody.  Yes, we’d love for veterans to be there, and Butler County has lots of veterans.  But this is open to first responders, victims of domestic abuse and anyone who is suffering silently from traumatic experiences.”

The PTSD group session meetings are held at 6 p.m. each Tuesday night from the Butler Baptist Association, located at 300 East Commerce Street.  For more information, contact Garrard at 334-603-3284.