One of those PTSD cases involved Ryan Birrell, 24, who
served as a sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. After his second tour, in 2004-05, he received the Bronze
Star with a "V" for combat heroism.
The citation described five separate episodes of valor,
including one morning in February 2005 when Birrell organized the defense of a fog-shrouded observation post in Husaybah that
came under multiple attacks by insurgents and suicide car-bombers. A wounded Birrell rallied his troops, tended to casualties
and directed fire, often while exposed to enemy gunfire.
"Sgt. Birrell reflected great credit upon himself and
upheld the highest tradition of the Marine Corps," his citation reads.
After coming home, Birrell took an assignment earlier
this year as a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and his life began to fall apart.
Diagnosed with PTSD, he suddenly demanded a divorce from
his wife, abused alcohol and methamphetamine and left his base without permission, say Birrell and Weirick, then his lawyer.
Kicked out of the Marine Corps with an other-than-honorable
discharge, he lived in Tijuana, Mexico, for months, often homeless.
"What brought me down there was how the streets were kind
of like being in Iraq - that kind of turmoil-type stuff," Birrell says now.
Birrell says that in Tijuana, he could fill his head with
thoughts of where to find food or shelter.
Growing tired of that life, he finally called his parents
and they brought him to their home in Las Vegas last month. "Life is great," says
his mother, Kim Lukas, who says she's ecstatic to have him home again.
For Birrell, who now lives in Torrance, Calif., insomnia
is back. "When I do sleep," he says, "I'm constantly waking up from dreams, constantly tired throughout the day." His nightmares
are of war. He visited VA offices Tuesday asking for benefits despite his other-than-honorable discharge. Birrell says he
needs treatment for his PTSD. Weirick fears they will turn him down regardless of his battlefield heroism.
Lukas says that makes her angry. "He's done two tours
over there, and God knows how many lives he's saved," she says. "He's going to need the care."