A photograph taken in the first days of the war had made the medic from New York's Long Island a symbol of the United States' good intentions in the Middle East. When he returned home, he was hailed as a hero.
But for most of the past five years, the 31-year-old soldier had writhed in a private hell, shooting at imaginary enemies and dodging nonexistent roadside bombs, sleeping in a closet bunker and trying desperately to huff away the "demons" in his head. When his personal problems became public, efforts were made to help him, but nothing seemed to work.
This broken, frightened man had once been the embodiment of American might and compassion. If the military couldn't save him, Knapp thought, what hope was there for the thousands suffering in anonymity?
In July 2007, Dwyer checked into an inpatient program at New York's Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He stayed for six months.
He came home in March with more than a dozen prescriptions. He was so medicated that his feet flopped when he walked, as if he were wearing oversized clown shoes.
The VA's solution was a "pharmaceutical lobotomy," his father thought.
"And so it's a dance between the clinicians and the patient."
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, feels the VA is a lousy dance partner.
Rieckhoff said the VA's is a "passive system" whose arcane rules and regulations make it hard for veterans to find help. And when they do get help, he said, it is often inadequate.
"I consider (Dwyer) a battlefield casualty," he said, "because he was still fighting the war in his head."
There are tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of cases out there like Specialist Dwyer's, and more to come. We don't hear about them until someone investigates and reports on them, and not all of them will end like that, of course, but even one is too many.
Until more than lip service is given to fixing the problems in the military and VA mental health care systems, the problem will exist until all the Iraq Vets are dead.
It's going to take more than yellow ribbons on cars. It's going to take guilt and anger by millions of people to fix the aftermath of a warmongering imperialistic ideology that is still sending Americans to a criminal war and then throwing them away in repayment for their service.
Crossposted at Alternate Brain.