Veteran Ben Keen’s New Mission: Helping Fellow Vets with PTSD – and Demolishing the Stigma

People
May 25, 2015

BY MARIA YAGODA

Ben Keen moved to Pitts­burgh after serv­ing in Iraq for eight-​​and-​​a-​​half years. He’d been strug­gling with post-​​traumatic stress dis­or­der, or PTSD, since 2004, and after his hon­or­able dis­charge in 2008, re-​​adjusting to civil­ian life proved vir­tu­ally impossible.

At war, you have to rewire your brain to sur­vive. That rewiring doesn’t really work here,” Keen tells PEOPLE of his rocky adjust­ment back to life at home, far away from the chaos of war zones. Wary of seek­ing help from large orga­ni­za­tions like the VA, Keen chose to self-​​medicate with alco­hol, an option that some recent vets choose when they find they no longer rec­og­nize their old lives. As Keen puts it, you’re still “ramped up” from bat­tle. “There’s no off switch.”

After two years of barely sur­viv­ing under the weight of alco­holism and sui­ci­dal thoughts, it was Keen’s 3-​​year-​​old daugh­ter who woke him up. She asked Keen if they could play together, and he had to respond, “Daddy can’t play,” because he was too inebriated.

I didn’t sur­vive mul­ti­ple deploy­ments to come back and kill myself on the couch, and that’s exactly where I was headed,” Keen tells PEOPLE. So he made a change – for his sake, for his family’s sake and for the sake of thou­sands of other vet­er­ans who feel iso­lated in their strug­gles with PTSD.

For Keen, con­nect­ing vets was inte­gral to his heal­ing process. He foundedSteel City Vets, an orga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports post-​​9/​11 vet­er­ans with job search assis­tance, social activ­i­ties and sup­port groups. He also became active on Ral­ly­Point, a social net­work­ing site for vet­er­ans, where users post about every­thing from résumé help to night ter­rors, the sort of stuff their Face­book friends may not understand.

His work with both orga­ni­za­tions has a sin­gu­lar mis­sion: remind­ing vet­er­ans they are not alone in these bat­tles, that “there is some­body will­ing to meet you at Star­bucks to talk about it.”

To help vet­er­ans with PTSD, Keen is insis­tent that Amer­i­cans need to change the con­ver­sa­tion around the dis­or­der. The first step, how­ever obvi­ous, is to actu­ally start that conversation.

To read the full arti­cle, visit Peo­ple.