The War at Home - NBC 7 San Diego

The War at Home



    For the first time we are hearing from an Army veteran who was shot multiple times by deputies during a standoff in East County last month.

    Michael Foster says what happened to him could happen to other veterans if they don't get the help they need.

    “He's a good friend, a good husband, my soul mate,” said his wife, Kim Foster.

    The 38-year-old veteran once saved the lives of two neighbors, running into a burning mobile home and pulling them to safety.

    The War at Home

    [DGO] The War at Home
    What happens to those we love when they snap.
    (Published Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010)

    "He didn't think twice about it, he didn't hesitate and he'd do it again in a heartbeat," said his wife.

    But Kim says there's also a dark side to Michael that stems from his days as a combat medic in the U.S. Army.

    During his 15-year military career, Michael served in several war zones, including the Persian Gulf and Bosnia. Some of his memories of war continue to haunt him.

    Vet's PTSD Led to Standoff, Shooting: Wife

    [DGO] Vet's PTSD Led to Standoff, Shooting: Wife
    East County resident Kim Foster said her husband opened fire on San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies Tuesday as a result of his battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her husband, Michael Foster, was shot five times at the end of the 5-hour standoff at the couple's home near Alpine.
    (Published Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010)

    “Mostly what affected me were children. I had to deal with children with missing limbs," Michael said.

    He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s a severe anxiety disorder caused by traumatic or life threatening experiences like war. Symptoms include frightening dreams, angry outbursts and in some cases, flashbacks.

    On October 19, Michael and Kim were at their Alpine home. Michael hadn't taken his PTSD medication for two days. He says he was also drinking alcohol when he had what he calls an "episode."

    Michael doesn't remember much, but Kim says her husband was back on the battlefield.

    "He gets really paranoid, I kind of wait it out, try to talk to him convince him that he's in a safe place. It's not where he thinks he is," said Kim.

    But this time she says it was different because Michael grabbed a handgun. She didn't know he had brought one home a few days earlier. Kim says at one point Michael fired it inside the house.

    "And that's why I ran for help because I thought he was going to kill himself," she said.

    After a five hour standoff, sheriff's deputies shot Michael five times.

    "I was so scared, but he's alive," Kim said.

    He's also paralyzed from the waist down from a bullet that struck his spine.        

    “No matter what happens with the court, no matter what happens with the sheriff's from here on out, my sentence is I will never walk again," said Michael.

    According to health experts, many veterans who need help for PTSD aren't getting it because some don't believe they have a problem, while others don't want deal with it.

    Although Michael has been taking medication for PTSD, he has never had therapy.

    "Because you're supposed to be able to handle this when you're a soldier, especially a soldier medic," he said.

    "Warriors feel that therapy is showing weakness," Kim said.

    Dr. Sonya Norman heads the PTSD clinic at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in La Jolla.

    "One of the symptoms is avoidance, so the last thing they want to do is come in deal with the trauma and talk about it," Norman said.

    She says veterans will often turn to drugs or alcohol to help deal with the stress.

    "Unfortunately it's not until a DUI or divorce or some other that life gets really stressful they’ll come in," Norman said.

    She says about a half a million US troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have now registered with the VA and so far, about 150,000 have screened positive for PTSD. But many aren't choosing treatment despite a strong success rate.

    "These therapies are 10 to 15 weeks and in that time people who really kind of commit to do the work, a great number of them have a huge amount of symptom relief," Norman said.

    Sgt. Jerry Casillas is one of those success stories. The Iraq war veteran was honorably discharged from the Marines because of PTSD. He says medication and therapy have helped him through his own personal war with anger.

    "I don't think I need help but I take my medication for my family," said Casillas.

    Michael Foster is now at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center getting the therapy he says he should have had years ago. He's hoping other veterans will take his advice.

    "It's better to start talking and get it off your chest before you wind up like me," he said.

    Experts say many veterans who refuse to get treatment will often turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the stress.

    Doctors at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center want to encourage service members to come in. They say you don't even have to make an appointment, just show up, and they will take care of you.