RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new documentary called ‘Thank You for Your Service’ sheds light on challenges military veterans face after years of intense training and war. William Rodriguez lived it.
“I came home and I didn’t want to look at how I had changed, and I didn’t really know how I had changed. All I knew is that other people knew that,” he remembers.
That was three years ago after Rodriguez completed three Middle East deployments over four years with the U.S. Army. Life as he knew it would never be the same because of what he saw, what he heard and what he felt.
“There are as many kinds of war trauma as there are physical injuries,” explains the documentary Producer and Director Tom Donahue. “The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress is a very simplistic way to look at war trauma.”
Donahue began investigating what he calls a military mental health crisis after learning more U.S. troops died by suicide than in combat in 2012. Two hundred interviews later, including those with defense officials, counselors and those suffering, Donahue brought their story to Richmond’s Byrd Theater in February.
“Certain veterans would come in and just be so vulnerable and so open and willing to go on these journeys with us,” Donahue describes the filmmaking process that took a couple years.
Adds Rodriguez, “Within the veteran community, you’re dealing with the loss of identity, right? Because you’re built up as part of a squad, broken down as an individual, and then you get out and now all of a sudden you’re an individual. You’re not Sergeant so-and-so, you’re not Captain so-and-so, right? You’re just somebody.”
Rodriguez turned his own personal battle into a mission. He studied social work to help other soldiers like himself and appears in the documentary for a wider reach.
Along with traditional counseling and medication, holistic treatments and support groups help them open up even in a tough, military world.
“That’s an incredibly difficult stigma to break,” Rodriguez says.
“To see them cry in the film I think will help a lot of veterans to say, ‘You know what, that guy is really cool and that guy is crying, it’s okay to cry,'” Donahue shares his hopes for the documentary.
Rodriguez knows breaking down those walls is the first step in letting go the pain and becoming faces of recovery.
“This isn’t new. Over 100,000 Vietnam veterans committed suicide after they came home, and so we’re just continuing a trend that’s been going on far too long, and it’s up to our generation of veterans to say enough is enough,” he says.
If you or a veteran you know is struggling, Richmond’s McGuire VA Medical Center encourages you to call the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255.
8News Anchor Amy Lacey is taking the mental health conversation to the airwaves. There are thousands of people in Richmond living with mental illness who are thriving, despite fighting their own personal battles. Join these Faces of Recovery to help break stigmas in our community.