On Oct. 11, 2013, 37-year-old Watts was taken to the Gallup Indian Medical Center on the border of the Navajo Nation. He had blood clots in his lungs and pneumonia, and his heart — damaged by chronic and heavy alcohol use — was unable to provide oxygen to his body anymore.
Only a year before, Watts had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His doctor told him that if he didn’t stop drinking he would die, but he didn’t listen.
“Whatever happened in Afghanistan, it haunted him to drink,” said Johnson. “If this whole post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] wasn’t such a secret, I really feel like he would have got help, and the counseling probably would have helped him to quit.”
Approximately 10 percent of all Gulf War veterans suffer from PTSD. As many as two-thirds of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD may not be receiving treatment at all, and it’s estimated that up to 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
As soldiers return home — about 1.7 million over the past decade from the Middle East alone — their access to medical services depends largely on where they call home. For veterans in urban areas, health care centers are often only a few minutes away. In Indian Country, veterans can drive hours just to see a doctor, if they choose to do so.