Emory Veterans Program offers help on the home front

By Maria Lameiras | Nov. 9, 2016

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One morning in March of this year, Matt Barnes was on the porch of his home on a rural 10-acre parcel of land near Cartersville, Georgia, cutting lumber for a remodeling project. In the distance, he could hear gunfire —not unusual for that area due to hunting and recreational shooting. But on this particular day, the gunshots continued, unrelenting, throughout the day.

That month marked 11 years since Barnes was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, and more than a dozen since he stepped on the airplane that would bring him home after nearly a year on the front lines of the war in Iraq. Yet each rifle crack that day brought the memories closer.

“My anxiety just started getting higher and higher," says Barnes, who finally took a break for dinner with his wife, Crystal, and his mother-in-law. "When we came back, I was fine. I went back out on the porch, cutting wood, and shots start getting fired again. I don’t remember anything after that."

Some time later the women noticed he was gone from the porch and began to search for him.

“Crystal and her mom found me in the barn. I had kicked the door in, I had my .45, and I was clearing rooms,” Barnes says, referring to the military close-quarters combat practice of checking the interior rooms of buildings for threats. “I don’t remember any of it. The first thing I remember after being on the porch was her mom touching me on the shoulder and saying, ‘Matt, give me the gun.’ ”

Though he had suffered symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since before leaving Iraq and had been discharged from the Marines for drug use little more than a year after returning from overseas, Barnes had never sought treatment.

During years of nightmares and unpredictable mood swings; substance abuse; violent arguments with two ex-spouses; and avoidance of social situations, friends, and family, he chalked it all up to stress and bad relationships.

“I didn’t think I had an issue, I just thought I was an asshole,” Barnes says candidly.

After the incident in the barn, Barnes’s family encouraged him to seek help for what they were sure was PTSD, but he wasn’t sure where to go. On a visit to the Wounded Warrior Project’s website a few days later, Barnes saw a link for the Warrior Care Network, an initiative launched in June 2015 to meet the needs of thousands of post–9/11 veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury regardless of geographic location or ability to pay.

“It was by pure miracle I saw that link,” says Barnes, who applied to the program and was referred to the Emory Veterans Program (EVP), one of four national centers that are part of the Warrior Care Network.

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