PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — On this Memorial Day, two Gulf War veterans from South Florida are honoring their fallen comrades by helping those who survived the effects of war.
More than 650,000 U.S. service members served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Michael French, a military police officer in the U.S. Army, and Rodney Thorne, an Army air defense artillery crew member, both lived to share their story.
"It took a physical toll. It took a mental toll," said Thorne in regards to his time deployed in Iraq during the Gulf War. "It was very difficult."
"I’ve seen people get blown up, shot, limbs come off." said French. "I’ve seen vehicles get destroyed with people inside of them."
Both men said they returned from war with post-traumatic stress disorder, and they're not alone. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports 12 out of every 100 Gulf War veterans suffers from PTSD. 15 out of every 100 Vietnam War veterans has PTSD, and for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, 11 to 20 out of every 100 suffers from PTSD, based on a given year.
Thorne and French also said they self-medicated with cocaine to treat their PTSD, which is how they landed at Retreat Behavioral Health in suburban Lake Worth, an in-patient substance abuse and mental health treatment center.
"Addiction is defined as drug seeking and drug using, despite the consequences," said Nicholas Landry, a licensed mental health counselor at the center. "Yes, there should be consequences for the behaviors, although we have to treat the underlying issues that are occurring. And it’s the substance use and the mental health."
French recently celebrated two years drug-free, and now he and Thorne have turned the tables on addiction. They're employed as clinical aides for the same center that helped them.
"As long as I’ve got breath in my body, I’m going to help another veteran, because it’s no man left behind," said French. "It's been a ride and at the same time, I'm not going to give up."
The duo is vowing to help veterans who are tackling the effects of war and self-medicating.
"Not all of them are perfect. Not all of them are going to stay clean and sober, but I know I’m giving my best shot," said Thorne.
To date, Retreat Behavioral Health has treated approximately 700 veterans at treatment centers in Florida and Pennsylvania. For more information about the center, click here.