COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - A turning point in the Iraq war: Tuesday is the deadline for US combat troops to withdraw from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities after a six year occupation. This is the first phase of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Those returning are facing serious combat related mental health issues. According to a study conducted by RAND Corp. last year, one in three combat veterans will return home with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or major depression requiring treatment.
"I had spent eight years serving the military. I never got in trouble. Never did anything bad. And I got treated like I was a piece of crap because of it," said Ben Driftmyer, discharged U.S. Army Sergeant and Cottage Grove resident.
Driftmyer was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder by Eugene doctors after he was chaptered out from the special forces unit in Baghdad. He suffered several mental breakdowns during his service, but his discharge was classified as "other than medical."
"Because the military didn't want to pay for me for the rest of my life," said Driftmyer.
Driftmyer gets monthly disability pay for his physical injuries acquired in Iraq, but not for his mental health.
"He wakes up, like he hasn't slept all night because he's had so many dreams," said Wendi Dexter, girlfriend of Driftmyer. "He just didn't sleep."
Driftmyer said he experienced a stigma with PTSD, as associated with being "weak."
"That's part of the reason why I got out of the military,' said Driftmyer.
Officials from the US Department of Veterans Affairs notified Driftmyer by letter they determined his PTSD was not related to his military service because he didn't prove a specific event that may have triggered it.
"It's a legal process, and that's the hard part. It's very frustrating just proving that stressor," said Tom Mann, Public Information Officer, Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs. "You've got to have some documentation like unit records or something for them to go on."
Tuesday morning, Driftmyer heads to Portland in hopes of convincing the VA's board of appeals what doctor's have already confirmed -- without breaking military policy of sharing exactly what he experienced during combat.
"And that's one of the biggest problems," said Driftmyer. "I can't tell the VA 'OK, this is what happened' because I'm not allowed to talk about it."
As troop withdrawal begins, Driftmyer fears returning soldiers will face similar battles like his at home.
"I think there's going to be a huge strain on the VA having enough psychiatrists and therapists and groups and things like that, to handle the amount of people we're going to have coming back," he said.