"In my first deployment, we lost 19 guys, including five of my closest friends," said Sam. "The commander of my company was killed during an attack at the IED. from my second deployment, I lost one of my soldiers because of a vehicle [attack]and then a week after we got home, one of my soldiers committed suicide. "

In his work as a correctional officer in a national prison, Sam kept his post-traumatic stress under control. He knows he has to do it because he believes that the public – and the prison management – see PTSD as something likely to make him "slam".

"PTSD is not going to affect my job," he said with conviction.

For Sam, the responsibility to protect the public from convicted criminals is honorable, with the insignia and uniform being familiar. In his work at the prison, he is again a soldier serving his country and he wraps his military training around him like a cocoon.

"When I'm in uniform, I'm still working for the government, protecting society," said Sam. "I love protecting America. It's something I cherish. gives the sense of duty. "

Six weeks later, Sam and other correctional officers, many of them veterans, feel the pressure. How will they pay their mortgages? How will they pay for gasoline to lead to work when credit cards are used to the fullest? Sam feels that he still has three weeks before everything implodes.

"Yesterday, I stood in line to receive a food distribution from our union," said Sam. "I work for everything I need. Taking a document is something new for me. I'm really ashamed, having to lower myself to that level because I'm not paid is hurtful, really hurtful.

"We fought for this red, white, and blue," said Sam, "We died for that, and all we blew for now betrays us."

102 (and counting) the very real direct effects of the partial closure of the government

His colleague John Kostelnik is also disillusioned. He represents a thousand union employees at the Victorville, California federal prison; nearly 80% of these employees are veterans. He says he receives dozens of calls a day from frantic union members who never expected to stay without pay for so long.

"We were sworn in when we took this position as law enforcement officers, and we see it as an honor," said Kostelnik. "But honor does not put food on the table for our children."

Strict requirements

Considered to be essential federal employees, correctional officers are required to work during closure. By government regulationall approved holidays have been canceled. The moonlighting is discouraged. A memo published this week by the Office of Personnel Management clearly states that anyone who calls a patient without special permission – even to go to a therapeutic appointment – will be considered AWOL (absent without permission) and disciplined.
What's a permanent stop for the government could mean for school lunches

"They said loud and clear that if we do not report to work, we will face disciplinary action, so we will not be able to attend those appointments," said Kostelnik, adding that disciplinary measures limit promotion.

"It breaks my heart," said a professor of psychiatry at Emory University Barbara Rothbaum, who served on a congressionally mandated committee that investigated the Department of Defense's treatment of PTSD.

"It's so difficult for veterans to admit that they have a problem to settle and to get to their appointments," Rothbaum said. "So erecting another barrier to treatment seems simply criminal."

According to Kostelnik, the only way to obtain an authorization is to go through the law on family and medical leave. But few employees with PTSD will apply, he added, fearing they would be considered unfit for work and demoted or dismissed.

"The horribly sad thing is that they were not mistaken," he said. James Laws of the Washington State University, which has published studies on the prevalence of PTSD among prison employees. She found extremely high rates of PTSD among all prison employees, not just among the 30% of veterans who experienced a tragedy of the war.

"There is a huge stigma around mental illness," said James. "Sometimes, when correctional officers talk about having trouble, they do not get the support they need and are either removed from work or dragged.

The Prisons Office did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the Department of Veterans Affairs encouraged all veterans "to visit the nearest health care facility, which provides all the same day services in primary care and mental health to veterans who need ", or to call for a crisis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. line of intervention at 1-800-273-8255.

A risk of suicide?

For federal workers like these in the country's prisons, the financial clock is turning. Stress, anger and despair are rising. According to experts, if this stress is associated with mental disorders such as PTSD, this could be an ideal solution in case of disaster.

"What we do know is that people with PTSD, depression, and addiction will have a high suicide risk," he said. Dr. Shaili Jain, psychiatrist at Stanford Universitywho specializes in PTSD. "It's a fact.

"All we can do to make sure they get the support they need, the care they need, is huge to prevent this truly tragic outcome."

A little over a week ago, an employee of a federal prison tried to commit suicide, said Clinton Buchanan, who oversees the South Central Regional Office of the US Federation of Local Prison Board Employees.

This man, who was an army veteran, "was feeling stress about his inability to pay alimony and pay bills," said Buchanan.

Federal prisons feel the effects of closure

"We are going to make sure that he gets help and that he stays under observation," added Buchanan. "He has had a lot of support from his family and colleagues, and I hope he'll be able to hold on and not try again."

In an interview with local media soon after, Edward Canales, union representative for 20 years fears that the stress caused by the current closure will lead to more incidents of this type.

"If this closure does not stop, we're going to have deaths, we're going to have suicides," said Canales, a retired correctional officer and a 100% disabled veteran.

A few days later, Robert Wilkie, secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, sent a letter to the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, David Cox, accusing the union of politicizing the closure and promoting "stereotypes insulting and deceiving "from the veteran of today. as a "victim".

"The attempt of the president of the local AFGE, Canales, to use veterans as pawns in a political debate while exploiting the serious problem of suicide to veterans is nothing short of shameful," he said. wrote Wilkie. "I ask you to publicly apologize for the reckless words of your AFGE colleague and describe the steps you plan to take for AFGE leaders to respect the heroes of our country."

The union's response was swift. In a letter dated the next day, Cox called Wilkie's comments "absurd" and "despicable".

"I have some tips for you," wrote Cox. "Try to find out a little bit about the causes of suicide attempts by veterans and you will learn that previous mental health conditions (such as PTSD) and stressful events, including financial pressures and unemployment, are factors in well known suicide risk. "

Wilkie's office said in a statement: "It is disappointing, but not surprising, that AFGE is mocking its exploitation of the tragic issue of veterans suicide and PTSD to present political arguments," the statement said. .

"Again, the myth of" the veteran as a victim "is just that, and the handling of AFGE as a weapon in policy disagreements is as outrageous as degrading to the heroes of our country.We expected more. "

Although insulted, Canales finds the accusation of ironic political maneuvering. "I voted for President Trump," he said. "I am also a Republican."

Reduce the risk

In his study, one of the major risk factors for PTSD in his study was the feeling of a clear lack of support from management and the administration.

"Many people said that going to jail to go to jail was like dressing up to go to hell," said James. "They felt that the administration and the management of the prison were more concerned with the detainees than with the well-being of the employees."

But on the other hand, said James, workers who felt supported by management were less likely to be stressed, "and that actually protected against the development of PTSD."

Rothbaum stresses the many evidence-based treatments available for the treatment of PTSD and encourages veterans and other prison staff struggling with this condition to find appropriate treatment. Emory Healthcare, for example, has two-week free in-patient sessions funded by the Warrior Care Network that she says she was "transformative".

"So even if they tried one and it did not work, do not lose hope," Rothbaum said. "It's a tough job."

Back at work, Sam is worried about his colleagues. He found a woman sobbing uncontrollably. Her owner did not cooperate and she was afraid of becoming homeless soon. Another friend, a veteran suffering from PTSD, is going through a divorce. He was recently expelled from his home, separated from his family and unable to support his child. Sam fears that he is a powder keg.

"I'm like, we have to check this guy," Sam says, "what he's going through is pretty intense and I do not want anything serious to happen, when you put it all together, it's like a disaster waiting to arrive. "

But no matter how dark his feelings or the intensity of his post-traumatic stress symptoms, Sam knows that he will not hurt anyone or commit suicide. His reason is powerful.

"My best friend in Afghanistan died to save me," Sam explained, "and so I've inherited his life.I can not commit suicide like some of the other guys do, because this life does not happen. is not really mine. "

Correction: An earlier version of this story was using the wrong family name of a researcher involved in a study on PTSD.