Iraq War vet and former state Rep. John Kriesel says the public has an important role to play in helping veterans find available services.
In noting the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Kriesel told The Daily Circuit Tuesday that he most worries about veterans with "invisible scars" who need counseling or suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Kriesel now directs Anoka County's Veterans Services Office.
He said services to help veterans exist. The challenge is getting them to open up.
"Oftentimes, the people that need the help the most are going to be the last to ask for it. So you need to find them," he said. "You need to conduct outreach to get to them — or the mom, or the husband, or the wife, or whoever it is who can spot someone who's struggling and get them the help."
Kriesel lost both legs in an attack on Dec. 2, 2006, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Fallujah. Two other Minnesota soldiers were killed. Kriesel said the men — Army Sgts. Bryan McDonough, of Maplewood, and Corey Rystad, of Red Lake Falls — were among his best friends.
Kriesel also nearly died. He later learned he had been shocked back to life three times at a field hospital.
But the adjustment to home life back in the U.S. also was tough. "Every time you deploy and come home, a little less of you comes home," he said. "I was angry; I had issues with that. It takes time and it takes honesty with myself, and that's OK. But I need to talk about it and find my new normal and move on with my life."
Some of the interactions he has with veterans in his current job are pro forma, he said. But other veterans want to talk about their experiences, he said, and the conversations almost become therapy sessions.
"There's a lot of these veterans don't have visible injuries," he said. "They say, 'I have all my parts,' or 'I wasn't wounded, so I'm fine. I don't need help.' They don't talk about it and get help.
"Trying to get them to their help, get them counseling or diagnosed with PTSD or just to talk and get it off their chest, is a huge concern of mine."
In addition to the "invisible wounds," Kriesel said he's also worried about veterans' employment. Veterans need to learn how to sell their skills to employers, he said, and employers need to shed the stigma that a hired vet will "snap and freak out" because he has PTSD.
There are an estimated 48,000 post-September 11th veterans in Minnesota, according to the state's Veterans Affairs Department.
Asked whether he might run for office again, Kriesel said "I'll never say never" — but he added, "I really enjoy what I'm doing. I feel this is what I'm meant to do.
"And my family has loved having me around the house."