Invisible Battle Scars That Linger

Vets on the East End take care of their own
Thomas Spotteck (left) has been raising money to help a fellow veteran. He will participate in a series of fund-raising athletic events, including a “boot camp” in Sag Harbor on April 22. Michael Roesch showed a vest his service dog, Rex, wears. His constant companion has been helpful for his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

    The summer sounds of a boat horn or fireworks on the East End might be welcome to many, but not to those with post-traumatic stress disorder, like Michael Roesch. For him, a “duck and cover” instinct takes over when he hears such noises.
    When he returned to Shelter Island at the age of 23, after four years in the Air Force, some asked him, “What’s wrong with you?” What was wrong was that Mr. Roesch felt as though he had been ejected, unprepared, from the military, culture-shocked by civilian life, and traumatized by some of his experiences. Even so, he said his deployments did not compare to those currently serving in the same areas, such as Afghanistan.
    Injuries from Mr. Roesch’s military service are the invisible kind. They have included the whole spectrum of P.T.S.D. symptoms, from headaches to depression to seclusion. Smells can be the worst triggers for Mr. Roesch; an unexpected scent can lead to disturbing flashbacks.
    He said the government doesn’t do what it should to meet the needs of returning veterans, and that he had to fight for the help he has received from the Veterans Administration. “I will get back to you,” he was told, upon requesting help for his symptoms.
    But Mr. Roesch has found relief in nonprofit organizations and social media groups, and he now tries to help other veterans — a way of serving after serving. Most, if not all, of those returning from deployments to war zones are experiencing the effects of P.T.S.D. in one form or another.
    “Civilians don’t understand, and politicians don’t care,” he said.
    Frank Bania, the president of the Long Island chapter of the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club, agreed, saying, “Many on Long Island have not survived the effects of the disorder.” He leads a group of riders who support vets and attend military funerals across the Island.
    “P.T.S.D. won’t go away,” Mr. Bania said, “you just have to keep it out of the way of your future.” The “best way is to find a social networking group that works for the individual.” Having long-term goals is also helpful, he said, as is helping other veterans.
    Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness is the organization that has helped Mr. Roesch, now 32, with his recovery the most. Started by two marines, it offers customized  programs including sports, yoga and nutrition, and life coaching. The nonprofit enables practitioners on the East End and service providers around the country to offer support where it is needed.
    Mr. Roesch has found that the companionship of a dog has also helped a great deal. He has Rex registered as a service dog so he can take him wherever he goes.
    The camaraderie of the military is something civilians have trouble understanding, he said — the consideration of others, having someone you depend on who depends on you, the moral and ethical obligations.
    The group mentality of the military is represented in the “boot camp” Mr. Roesch leads as a personal trainer at Studio 89 in Sag Harbor, where people work out together and support one another. Mr. Roesch is also an active member of the American Legion and the Patriot Guard, motorcycle riders who welcome returning veterans upon their airport arrival.
    Helping his comrades is what Thomas Spotteck, 23, has chosen to do. Back on Shelter Island since February 2011, his last tour was documented by HBO in the series “The Battle for Marjah,” based on his First Battalion Sixth Marines unit. Mr. Spotteck said of his combat experience that he “pushes it down” and focuses on work, school, and future career plans.
    After returning from Bethesda, Md., on Tuesday, he said he was motivated by his trips to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where four friends he served with are residing. His presence there seems to help them, he said. “They survived,” he said, but “the hardest part is the mental part.”
    One friend, Josh Sams, 27, is the worst off of those in the unit who survived, having lost both legs and half of a hand in a Jan. 12 incident during his third deployment in Afghanistan. Mr. Spotteck said Mr. Sams’s sniper assignment was a difficult one to get and that he was one of “the strongest, in-shape kids” he’d ever met. “He was deployed for eight of the nine months he was married,” he said, before the injury.
    After visiting him at Walter Reed, Mr. Spotteck said, “I had to do something.” His decided to raise money for his friend and his wife, Lindsey. The couple have a mortgage on a house in North Carolina, and Ms. Sams quit her job to come to her husband’s bedside in Bethesda. He is still undergoing countless surgeries and medical procedures, while his wife sleeps in a cot in his room.
    His mother, who lives in Ohio, stays in a hotel across the street. The hospital has little to offer family members, Mr. Spotteck said. There is no food facility on the premises or nearby. Mr. Sams is likely to be at Walter Reed for a few years, Mr. Spotteck said.
    To raise money for Josh and Lindsey Sams, nonprofit groups that help veterans, and a scholarship fund in honor of their Shelter Island neighbor Joseph Theinert, who was killed in Afghanistan in June 2010, Mr. Spotteck and Mr. Roesch are taking part in athletic fund-raisers with seven other East Enders. The newest plan, a boot camp at Studio 89 on April 22, will benefit the Samses.
    Next up will be the Tough Mudder in New England on May 6, described on its Web site as “probably the toughest event on the planet,” and then the Warrior Dash in Maryland on May 19. Mr. Spotteck hopes that Mr. Sams might be able to leave the hospital to attend that one. On Memorial Day weekend, a kickoff fund-raiser is being planned for the night before the Memorial Day 100, a relay run from Orient Point to Ground Zero in Manhattan. Soldier Ride the Hamptons in July is also on the list.
    Donations to “Run for Josh Sams” will be accepted at all of the events, by mail, or at any Capital One Bank. More information can be had by e-mailing runforjoshsams@yahoo.com.