Paul Raines saw a close friend burn to death after an explosion in Baghdad. Another soldier in his unit was shot in the neck, and Raines experienced almost daily mortar and rocket attacks.
When he returned in 2006 after a year in Iraq, the Frederick man chalked these up as the realities of war. He did not seek treatment.
Five years later, Raines — who joined the National Guard after being discharged from the Army — says he has post-traumatic stress disorder and a litany of medical issues that have led to a downward spiral in his life.
“It’s still fresh as the day I got back,” Raines, 30, said in an interview at his home. “The day-to-day stuff, that’s the thing that upsets me the most.”
Now that he is seeking help, Raines said, the problem is bureaucracy. The National Guard and the Army go back and forth over who should address his problems because they arose when he served in Iraq.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not give him full disability benefits, Raines said, because he continues to serve in the Guard, which he joined after four years of Army active duty ended in 2007.
He is a specialist with the 291st Army Liaison Team out of Adelphi and his contract runs until 2013.
He cannot drive through downtown Frederick because it reminds him of Baghdad. He wakes up in the middle of the night unaware that he is safe at home. He often forgets whether he has eaten that day.
“It’s not fair to be left with a broken husband who, with some time, can come back to being a provider, a dad, a superhero,” said his wife, Jessica Raines. “Those are the scars and the wounds that people don’t understand. I just want my husband back. I want him healthy and happy and whole.”
‘Trying to forget’
Starting in November 2005, Raines — a member of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., — was stationed in Baghdad. While on patrol, the Army specialist was responsible for collecting enemy intelligence.
“There were times when we had no chance to breathe,” Raines said. “We were constantly bombarded with mortars. … We had snipers around. They were firing on our patrols. We were constantly on vigilance.”
No diagnosis was made when Gaines returned from war. He completed a post-deployment assessment, and at the time did not indicate any problems.
He tried to go on with his life, he said.
“When I got back, I didn’t know what I was dealing with,” he said. “All of us were drinking like fishes — just trying to forget — and that wears off after a while.”
Raines no longer drinks. He quit in 2008. The problems only got worse from there, he said.
His PTSD symptoms began to get severe in early 2009 and have continued —-including anger outbursts, depression and flashbacks.
Raines checked himself into a psychiatric facility for a week last July after having suicidal thoughts. He had been seeing a counselor before that, but those meetings were infrequent.
The stay temporarily calmed him, according to Raines’ wife, but without the structured environment, he relapsed.
He needs a medical discharge to begin receiving full benefits. With that, Raines said he could get additional medical help — including access to an inpatient program — and some financial assistance.
But nobody will take that step, the couple said.
“They just leave him damaged and walk away and don’t even care,” Jessica Raines said. “You feel like you’re fighting a war with your own country. He fought for our country.”
Slowly, Raines is getting assistance. Just before Christmas, he began a PTSD outpatient program.
Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, spokesman for the Maryland Army National Guard, said privacy concerns prevent him from going into detail about Raines’ circumstances. He did say that members of Raines’ unit have offered financial and other assistance.
“We’re still in the process of trying to help him get the care and the treatment that he needs,” Kohler said. “Both from his previous deployment, and then the injuries that he may have incurred in the line of duty (with the National Guard).”
‘He’s their superhero’
Paul Raines met his wife shortly after returning from Iraq. Married in December 2009, the couple have three children, ages 9 months, 3 years and 7 years.
They no longer sleep in the same bed, Jessica said. Raines wakes up in the middle of the night with flashbacks, and it can take him time to recover. Jessica often has to hold him down and reassure him about where he is.
The family struggles to get by, she said. Her husband is no longer able to care alone for the children, who are in school or attend day care when Jessica works during the week. Relatives help out on weekends.
“To them, that’s Daddy,” Jessica Raines said. “He’s their superhero. A superhero shouldn’t have to walk with a cane. He served his country. He should be able to be a dad.”
After his discharge, Paul worked as a contractor as an intelligence analyst — the same line of work as when he was in the Army. He would work long hours to forget the pain he felt, but eventually lost his job. He has been unemployed since October 2010.
Jessica has two part-time jobs because her husband cannot work. She works as a preschool aide for a couple of hours each morning and then as a receptionist at a hair salon on Saturdays.
“We went from him working with four-star generals to food stamps,” Jessica said.
Before he enlisted, Raines said, he was a different person.
“I was a pretty happy-go-lucky guy,” he said. “I loved to hang out with everybody. I never lashed out at people with anger.”
Raines said he joined the Army on Nov. 11, 2003 — Veterans Day — because military service is common in his family. The Sept. 11 terrorists attacks were also a major factor.
“It was patriotic, and to this day, I hold to that,” Raines said. “Serve my country and make sure freedom is still free.”
Chris Fontenot met Raines at boot camp in November 2003. They were stationed together at Fort Campbell after completing specialized training in Arizona.
Fontenot, who lives in Baltimore, said he deployed to Iraq first, and returned just before Raines’ deployment.
“We went through so much together,” Fontenot said. “We were real good friends.”
He described his buddy as a good soldier and “an all-around good guy.”
After Raines returned from Iraq, Fontenot said he saw a marked change.
“He wasn’t the happy-go-lucky guy that I knew.”
They eventually lost contact. Fontenot would call Raines, but never hear back from him. About a year ago, Fontenot said, Raines’ wife called to fill him in on her husband’s problems.
Given what he saw during his own deployment, Fontenot said he can understand his friend’s difficulties.
“Anybody that serves and has been over, whether you’re a direct war fighter or support, you see things, you do things,” Fontenot said. “You’re in a stressful environment for a year. Even though he wasn’t a guy kicking down doors, it definitely does transform you.”
The daily toll is evident in the physical scars.
Raines walks with a cane because of knee and ankle injuries he suffered in Iraq and during Guard duty, which involves a monthly drill. He still participates, but said his unit does not allow him to do any physical activity.
Worse are the emotional scars. Raines has eight prescriptions, including a mood stabilizer and medications to treat migraines, anxiety and other problems.
His wife keeps a file of everything — now more than 1,000 pages of medical documents.
“Every once in awhile I have a decent day, and I feel a little like me again,” Raines said.
But those days are few and far between.
“It’s having a permanent mental block in your head,” he said.