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A Wife's Battle

He was sent back to Fort Stewart and returned to duty, a reality he could not cope with. Twice he tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized at Winn Army Community Hospital before being medically discharged for PTSD in 2004. After 13 years in uniform, Troy got nearly the lowest disability rating possible, a $11,349 severance check and no benefits.

Michelle was dating Troy at the time. She had visited him at Walter Reed. When he asked if she wanted out of the relationship, she said she would stick by him as long as he continued to treat her well. They were married on Valentine's Day in 2005.

For 18 months Troy worked as a truck driver until his symptoms began to worsen. He imagined he saw Army vehicles on the interstate, causing him to shake and panic. His family needed the $2,600-a-month salary, so Troy kept driving and Michelle rode in the truck with him. Finally VA doctors increased Troy's medication, and he became too zonked to drive.

VA rated Troy's disability level at 50 percent, resulting in $860 a month in compensation. Like many wounded soldiers, he was clobbered by a fine-print government regulation known as "concurrent receipt," which prevents double compensation. That meant before he could receive his VA disability check, Troy had to pay back the $11,349 he received when he left the Army. For 13 months, VA withheld his check until the Army amount was reimbursed.

The Turners' foothold in working-class America completely slid away when Michelle -- who has worked as a teacher's aide and an inventory-control specialist at Wal-Mart -- developed health problems and was forced to quit her job. Now her full-time job is Troy.

His illness has eroded their marriage, but on the morning they arrive at the Martinsburg VA hospital, she leads the charge on his behalf. The concrete behemoth serves 129,000 vets from West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. It is at once efficient and numbingly bureaucratic.

Michelle and Troy move down the hallways, passing a room near the PTSD residence where a group of young vets, some tattooed and still muscled from the desert, are playing a game of ring toss. The cafeteria smells of bleach and canned peaches.

In the small lobby of the neuropsychological department, Troy leans over the sign-in clipboard, pen in hand, staring at the sheet. Michelle tells him what day it is. They sit together on the hard chairs until Troy's name is called.

With two hours to kill, Michelle wanders into the hallway and runs into a Vietnam vet she has befriended. A former Marine with ramrod posture, the vet has PTSD and an encyclopedic knowledge of VA procedures. "Don't take no for an answer," he tells Michelle. "Huntington [a VA regional office] says you are his fiduciary, right?"

"They say they need to come out and do a home study," Michelle says.

The vet shakes his head angrily. "Don't let these people get over on you!"

She returns to the waiting room. A flier on the bulletin board catches her eye: "Coming Soon, Help for Veterans and Families." A door opens, and one of Troy's doctors asks her to step into his office. When Michelle emerges 15 minutes later, she stands alone in the waiting room, twisting the handle of her purse. The doctor said Troy is getting worse.


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