Kannon Davis of Nederland says joining the Army was always part of the plan.
"Ever since sixth grade, my mind was pretty much made up," he says. "I enlisted in 2008."
What Sgt. Davis didn't plan for came four months in to his 2011 deployment to Afghanistan.
"The vehicle I was in was struck by an IED," he recalls. "Broke multiple bones in my left leg. Had to have about 18 surgeries to put it back together and the right leg was amputated below knee."
Davis's physical wounds healed over a matter of months, but his invisible wounds took much longer.
"When it happened, I didn't lose consciousness at all. All the memory is there. It's still clear," he says. "At first, thinking about it would be enough to raise my heart rate."
Thankfully, he knew where to turn for help.
"I've been blessed with a very good support system. I'm very close to my family and I've been able to participate in a number of veterans programs," Davis says.
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He acknowledges that plenty of veterans don't have that support system. In too many cases, they don't know how to get help and some may not even know what they're experiencing is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
"It affects the body in different ways. It's a physiological effect of a trauma or a stress to the person," says Beaumont psychologist Bob Meier, adding that PTSD affects about 8 percent of the u-s population. "I've had a number of clients come through the clinic with full-blown PTSD, as well as others who have bits and pieces of it."
Dr. Meier emphasizes that the most important thing someone suffering from PTSD can do is find someone to talk to about it.
"It doesn't have to be a professional. It can be, but if you have a supportive family, you're going to be much, much better off," he says.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides free access to therapy and counseling, but sometimes those programs don't work. There are other options out there, such as the Lone Survivor Foundation, which hosted Davis at one of its retreats.
"It's almost like, 'Try this on. Does this fit? Is this right for you? Does this not work for you?'" says Terry Jung, executive director of the foundation. He says his organization offers a variety of treatments ranging from neurofeedback to equine therapy, sometimes with profound results.
"You can see them. I call them the 'A Ha' moments when you see the light bulb go off and something changes," Jung says. He says the organization's goal is to catch veterans before they become a statistic: one of the 20 veterans who commit suicide each day on average.
"They need a lot of help when they come back," says Jung.
Another group that doesn't get as much attention: vets who go from the battlefield to behind bars. That's why Navy vet and Jefferson County Judge Kent Walston worked with other veterans groups to create the Veterans Treatment Court.
"A lot of DWIs. A lot of substance abuse. Maybe some family violence, things of that nature, all associated with PTSD," Walston says of the crimes the court will likely address.
"That allows them to divert from the criminal courts into the veterans treatment court, which is going to be directed by Judge Walston," says Ashley Molfino, a Jefferson County assistant district attorney.
Instead of jail time, the court will direct veterans to services and programs that can help with their PTSD.
"We're not giving them special treatment; we're giving them special help," Walston says. "It is the least we can do."
It is indeed the very least that can be done for the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our way of life because even after they return from war, many are fighting a battle that's invisible to the rest of us.
"They are heroes," Jung says. "Everybody else can be a patriot."
If you believe America's veterans deserve better, click here to sign a petition calling on Congress to pass the Fairness to Veterans Act.
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