- Associated Press - Saturday, July 12, 2014

AURORA, Colo. (AP) - After Lt. Rickey Bennett came back from Iraq in 2005, friends and colleagues told him he had symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but he denied it. As a military chaplain, he was trained to detect it in others, but he just didn’t see it in himself.

But in 2010, he was bombarded with flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and paranoia. Once responsible for boosting the morale of 3,000 military members in Iraq, Bennett was afraid to leave his bedroom.

“I was going five to seven days without sleep,” said the 52-year-old, who lives with his wife in Aurora, his home base since 1990. “In the daytime I had flashbacks, and nights were horrible nightmares. I got to the point it was commit suicide or get help.”

The diagnosis was PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Since then, he’s been hospitalized many times, tried a cornucopia of medications and treatments. He couldn’t work, so he retired from his career as a Navy chaplain, which he’d continued after Iraq at places like the Naval Chaplains School in Rhode Island.

“He’s still having a hard time with the transition,” said his daughter, Emily Joy, 22, who is married to a Navy Seabee. “It still seems like he’s overseas half the time.”

Combat chaplains follow uniformed personnel into battle, facing the same risks of hitting IEDs or getting caught in gunfights - except they carry no weapons.

Bennett is among the 8 percent of current and former service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from post-traumatic stress, and his experience is mirrored in the findings of a new report from the Institute of Medicine, commissioned by Congress to assess PTSD services and programs.

The 300-page report released in June found that demand for PTSD treatment is at unprecedented levels, but the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration are not prepared to deal effectively with a caseload expected to dramatically increase as more service members return home.

Both agencies have spent billions of dollars on PTSD, but they “often do not know what treatments patients receive or whether treatments are evidence-based, delivered by trained providers, cost-effective, or successful in improving PTSD symptoms,” the report said.

Between 2004 and 2012, the percentage of all active-duty service members with PTSD increased from 1 percent to 5 percent, the report said. In 2012, 13.5 percent of Army service members had PTSD, as did 10 percent of Marines, 4.5 percent of Navy members and 4 percent of Air Force personnel.

For veterans such as Bennett, struggling through the system has been a long process, including hospitalizations and experimenting with at least 40 PTSD treatments.

“There is no miracle cure,” he said. “For me, it took a combination of things.”

He discovered two things helped most - sports and academics.

He’s become passionate about adaptive sports and participates on many athletic teams formed of people with physical disabilities and emotional challenges. Last year, he participated on the Navy Wounded Warrior Team at the 2013 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Equally important, he said, was writing his dissertation for a doctorate of ministry from Regent University. This May, he finished the 400-page project that details a program he believes will help combat chaplains better transition to life after war.

Story Continues →