What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again?

Three men fought together on the front lines in Iraq, but faced new perils and different fates when they came back. Meet America's servicemen as they return from war.

By Brian Mockenhaupt from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2012

What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again?Photographed by Tamara Reynolds
The Casualty

Daniel Duefield had been one of Fletcher’s best friends in Iraq. The two watched movies together and supported each other in low moments, and Duefield told Fletcher about his plans for a career in the Army. But back at Ft. Drum in upstate New York, Fletcher saw troubling changes. Duefield slept little and often seemed to be in a haze. There was no more talk about the future; he just seemed to drift. He was soon on several medications for pain from a back injury, anxiety, and a sleep disorder. Duefield’s family suspects that he suffered from post-traumatic stress and possibly a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well. “Before I knew it, he was a walking zombie,” Fletcher says. Duefield was demoted for a disciplinary infraction, and his downward slide continued. Though Fletcher and his other friends tried, they felt they couldn’t reach him. “I don’t know what happened to him that didn’t happen to me,” Fletcher says. “He just couldn’t cope.”

Discharged from the Army in 2009, Duefield returned home to Grafton, New Hampshire, and lived with his mother. He didn’t work and received disability payments from the government. He met with a psychiatrist and mental health counselors at the local VA hospital but often skipped counseling appointments. “He was very withdrawn. He was a changed man,” his uncle Frederick Duefield says. The nephew who had once been so outgoing now stayed in his room, not even coming out to say hello when his uncle visited. “He was a good kid who came back screwed up from combat. That’s what happened to Dan.”

One afternoon in November 2010, Duefield’s mother called Frederick Duefield and said the state police were en route to the house. Daniel had a pistol and was threatening to kill himself and others. Frederick Duefield persuaded police to allow him to take his nephew to the VA hospital, where he was held for a day and then released. Three days later, he took an overdose of methadone pills, which were prescribed for him, and died.

Quilty is still gnawed by guilt, thinking he could have helped Duefield onto a better path. He knows that his struggles are not so different from Duefield’s, coming home from the war and feeling lost. It was an accumulation of small moments, lucky breaks, and smart choices that led Quilty toward a successful transition. He had a lot of people who helped him, whether by taking a chance on him with a job offer or just listening to his frustrations. Duefield had some of that, too, but it just wasn’t enough. What separates Quilty from Duefield is partly how they experienced combat, both physically and emotionally. Sadly, Duefield is far from alone; in fiscal year 2009, 1,868 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans attempted suicide, and 98 of them died.

A veteran’s most important asset for reintegration can be hope, says Genevieve Chase, executive director of American Women Veterans. “No matter how bad things are, knowing it is going to get better and that you can get back to a sense of normal is important,” says Chase, who was wounded by a suicide car bomb in Afghanistan in 2006. “Vets who have a sense of purpose and a sense of hope transition better.”

Hope is what Scott Quilty tries to offer, as, years out of uniform, he retains a connection with men from his platoon. “We have been through too much, and we have too far left to go to watch another brother-in-arms leave this world by his own hands,” he wrote in a message to the group a few days after Duefield’s death. “If you need help, if you need someone to talk to, if you don’t think anyone would understand, or if you don’t think anyone cares … know this: We are still here for you.”

  • Your Comments

    • Margaretpurrcell45

      My dad was 45 wen I was born n he stayed strong. but the flashbacks. and the haunted look he would get on his facce and tthe nights he would have scremiing nightmares. have and will haunt me all my life, I’m 48

    • Dee “Phoenix” Hudson

      This was a very touching story. I had hoped that the last soldier would make it but unfortunately he took his own life. Quilty and the rest should know that Duefield didn’t kill himself to be noticed. He just couldn’t deal with the inner pain any longer. I say that because I have been there myself. I hope more people will read these type of articles and understand that many of our homecoming soldiers really do need the rest of us!

    • Dee “Phoenix” Hudson

      This was a very touching story. I had hoped that the last soldier would make it but unfortunately he took his own life. Quilty and the rest should know that Duefield didn’t kill himself to be noticed. He just couldn’t deal with the inner pain any longer. I say that because I have been there myself. I hope more people will read these type of articles and understand that many of our homecoming soldiers really do need the rest of us!

    • jsphnprk

      TYPO IN THE HEADING: “soliders” < "soldiers"

    • Gauranga

      I firmly believe that one message, from many, that one can get from this story is that, as a relative or friend of these brave men and women, you have to believe that you can be a source of support, motivation and company for them to readjust themselves to the life which they chose to interrupt in order to fight for their country.   

    • Mohammed_Almarhun

      War is just wrong, imam Ali said ” people are just two types, either a human like you or brothers who have the same believes like you”
      Why do we have to kill each others when we have to help each other for a better life.
      I might not said what I wanted to say the right way but at least I tried.

      Mohammed Ali from Saudia Arabia

      • S’pani

        Well, how many think war is wrong. There are too many state sponsored terrorism, a war like situation, why? just to prove a point and impose some thing. If all think and behave your way there no need to have boundaries, between continents, countries and even states

    • Hillington Musoke

      this article is really touching, transition is always a hard part of life not only for vets but even for other sects, we all need people like Quilty and we should all be like him in the best we can, the power of networking