HOST INTRO: Today we bring you a story of love and war from US National Guard Specialist Ivan Lopez, and his wife Jadira. As part of our Impact of War Series, WHYY's Mara Zepeda reports.
ZEPEDA: Ivan Lopez deployed to Afghanistan in December 2007. When he returned from combat 11 months later, his wife Jadira says he didn't seem like the same person.
JADIRA: But his mom had told me that he said that he felt like nobody treated him the same. That he felt like he was an animal.
ZEPEDA: This young couple's love story starts in happier times, when Jadira was a little girl racing the neighborhood boys in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.
JADIRA: You know how the streets over here are long, you know? In Puerto Rico the blocks are smaller. We all ran barefooted when we were racing each other. Uno. Dos. Tres! And then you know and we run! (LAUGHS)
ZEPEDA: When she was ten years old, Jadira moved to Philadelphia. She started running track at Thomas Edison High School. She was fast, but not as fast as Ivan Lopez.
JADIRA: Always, I was always right behind him...never catch-up. (LAUGHS). I don't know. One day I was weightlifting and I just started looking at him and this attraction just came over me. A week after we went on our first date to the movies and we went to the cheese steak place right next to it.
ZEPEDA: On their first Valentine's Day they wore red shirts, skipped school, went ice-skating, and had their photos taken at a store at the mall. By then, Ivan had already enlisted. By their senior prom, Jadira was pregnant.
JADIRA: He bent down and he told me 'Jadira? Will you marry me.' I told him, 'yes I'll marry you.'
ZEPEDA: Two weeks after their daughter Maya was born, Ivan deployed to Afghanistan. In Philadelphia, Jadira went to school to become a medical assistant during the day. At night, she worked at a dollar store. Her mother and mother-in-law looked after Maya. When Ivan returned in November 2008, he found a job at Amtrak. But things were hard at home.
JADRIA: Well we started arguing from the beginning. After New Years 2010 that's when it really got out of hand. We had some pretty strong arguments.
ZEPEDA: Ivan started to distrust his family and Jadira. He was quick to lose his temper and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. In the last few months, the couple separated and Jadira moved back home. On January 27th Ivan called.
JADIRA: I remember the last thing he told me was "I love you. Tell the kids I love 'em." The next day I tried calling him. I said maybe he's just ignoring my calls. Like I knew something was wrong but I wanted to be in denial. I kept calling him and calling him. I just kept getting desperate.
ZEPEDA: When she pulled up at their old house and saw his car parked outside, Jadira had a terrible feeling. When she went inside the house, she saw the worst. Ivan had hanged himself.
JADIRA: I come out the car. I went to see him. It's already too late. I called the cops. My step dad had got him down. Tried to give him CPR to see if he would come back. And he didn't. (CRIES)
(AMBI: PASTOR SINGING)
ZEPEDA: On January 31st, the same pastor who married Jadira and Ivan led his funeral service. He was 23 years old.
(AMBI: 21GUN SALUTE)
ZEPEDA: Jadira flips through Ivan's scrapbook: her prom corsage, movie tickets, the Valentine's Day photo from four years ago. She takes out the ice skating pass, flips it over and finds a message scrawled on the back.
JADIRA: It says. "My first Valentines for Jadira. Her first ice skating experience with me." (BABY NOISES.) I never knew he did that.
ZEPEDA: According to the National Guard, Ivan Lopez was the 14th Pennsylvania Guardsman to have committed suicide since 2003. Nationally, the number of off-duty Army Guard soldiers who have committed suicide has nearly doubled from 62 in 2009, to 114 last year. Ivan leaves behind 3-year-old Maya and 7 month-old Adrian.
JADIRA: I know yesterday she told me 'Papi,' - she'd seen the photo of him. 'Papi misses you up there.'
ZEPEDA: I'm Mara Zepeda, for WHYY News.
HOST OUTRO: To see the Valentine's Day photo of Ivan and Jadira and for more stories in the series, visit www.whyy.org/impactofwar.
Local veterans' groups pleased with new PTSD regulations
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Local Veterans groups and Veterans' Affairs officials are applauding new federal legislation regarding benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maiken Scott reports from WHYY's Behavioral Health Desk.
Gone and forgotten...until now
June 1, 2010
Hundreds of cremated remains of former soldiers have sat for decades, unclaimed, on shelves of funeral homes in New Jersey. A group of living veterans are giving the dead the burial they never had.
Much has been written about the wars being fought by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. In her new book, The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers, Nancy Sherman probes the inner war being fought by service men and women. A philosopher and psychoanalyst who teaches ethics at Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval Academy, Sherman examines the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by modern warriors, and the lingering effects their choices have for the rest of their lives, and U.S. society.
The Impact of War at Home
About 4,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team are expected to deploy to Iraq later this year. Hundreds of these men and women live in the Philadelphia area. They include business owners, computer programmers, teachers, students and cooks, and they are wives, husbands, and parents. As the soldiers gear up for war, their family members prepare for their absence. Over the next year, in conjunction with National Public Radio and three other Pennsylvania public radio stations, WHYY will tell the stories of these soldiers, their families and how they cope emotionally, and financially, with the absence of their loved ones.
Additional coverage on the effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts on soldiers and their families can be found at War Torn - a series by The New York Times. The articles and multimedia tell the stories of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings, or been charged with them, after coming home.