Iraq veteran uses rap to treat his PTSD

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There were plenty of signs he was drifting far from the good-natured child his family says he once was. One day, he and his fellow soldiers pretended to arrest an Iraqi boy. As the child cried, the soldiers taunted him, according to video Dunson took that day. Dunson said it was a joke.

His assault rifle became his life, he said. He held it while he ate and slept and fired toward crowds of Iraqis when he felt threatened. One day, he took his gun and put it to his friend’s head. They laughed and someone took a photo.

Through it all, Dunson worried about the man he was becoming. When his sergeant urged him to kill anything in sight one day, he balked. “This is crazy,” he recalled thinking.

The life he had left was gone. After serving in Iraq, Dunson came home to a tense relationship with his wife. She denied cheating on him, but later took their daughter and moved in with another soldier.

Dunson plotted to kill them, convinced he could easily dispose of their bodies in the Alaskan wilderness. In less than a year, he was arrested four times for various domestic abuse charges, he said.

“I felt angry and out of control, like I don’t know what I might do angry,” he said.

He moved to Las Vegas and stayed on his cousin’s couch. Though he had once been close with his family, Dunson stopped visiting or telephoning his other relatives, certain they were disappointed in him.

“I feel like they are saying, `Oh, he lost his wife, he is crazy. Oh, he went to war.’ Not saying it, but in their heads, they are saying it the whole time, like I don’t fit in,” he said.

The faces of the men he killed _ the husbands, fathers and brothers _ haunted him. Even after his ex-wife moved their daughter to Las Vegas to be near him, her happy Facebook musings about holiday celebrations and weekend activities upset him. On several occasions, he climbed to the roof of an empty condominium tower and stared at the concrete below, willing himself to jump.

LaTonya Williams, 30, said the changes in her once easygoing cousin are stark.

“He was never violent before,” she said. “He was the center of my family. Everyone loved him. He had the best jokes and the best sense of humor … and when he came back he was a completely different person. He’s not the Leo that everybody knew him to be.”

Dunson has a youthful face and a muscular body. When he speaks, he appears friendly and well-mannered, a sharp contrast to the rage in his music. He works as a security guard at night and then goes directly to class most mornings. On the weekends, he visits with his daughter.

Through his music, Dunson explored his desire to kill and die. He found a producer and director to make his albums and videos more professional. Soon, he was performing concerts at bases and veterans events.

“Music has always been my therapy,” he said.

Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in New York, has used music to treat victims of dementia, trauma and gang violence. She said patients respond to music from their youth or happier days. Rap might help PTSD victims process the violence they experienced in conflict, she said.

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