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Event presents struggles of war veterans

Christian Myers | Monday, April 16, 2012

In his song, “Trying to Find My Way Home,” musician and Iraq War veteran Jason Moon sings, “It’s hard to fight an enemy that lives inside of your head.”

The College Democrats of Notre Dame sponsored a combination concert and movie showing in the LaFortune Student Center on Sunday to raise awareness about veterans suffering from that “enemy:” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The event featured live music from Moon and excerpts from the documentary “On the Bridge,” a film directed by professor Olivier Morel that features the stories of Moon and other veterans with PTSD.

College Democrats co-president Camille Suarez said she initially conceived the idea for the event after attending a January screening of the film at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

“After I saw the movie, I was so emotionally moved that I wanted to spread the word,” Suarez said. “Like Jason said, people need to just listen. Hopefully after seeing the movie, more people will listen.”

At the event, Moon played three songs from his album and answered questions about veterans with PTSD. Moon said the public’s instinctive response of asking veterans about their experiences and trying to relate to them can cause more harm than good, and the best thing those who want to help veterans can do is simply to listen.

Moon said Notre Dame can work to become recognized as a school that is veteran-friendly by taking steps to improve resources for returned soldiers, like providing a safe space for them to reach out to each other in dealing with veteran-specific issues like PTSD.

“Notre Dame has a history of helping veterans through chaplaincy. Let’s extend that to the whole campus,” Moon said.

Moon was deployed as a combat engineer through the Wisconsin Army National Guard in Iraq from March 2003 through April 2004.

After returning from his tour of duty, Moon began traveling nationwide to play concerts for veteran and civilian audiences. In addition to local shows around Wisconsin, Moon travels around the country once a month to perform. He also founded a non-profit organization that works to help veterans suffering from PTSD.

Moon said participating in the documentary was a challenging experience, but it ultimately led him to use his musical talent to help his fellow veterans.

“At the time [making the film] was very difficult, and caused about six months of severe PTSD,” Moon said. “Originally, I agreed to do it because I thought it would be the last time I would have to tell my story, but then the music and the CD came out of it, and now that’s all I do. My plan kind of backfired.”

Morel said he was inspired to make the film after hearing a National Public Radio piece about veteran suicide rates and PTSD. “On the Bridge” features the stories of six veterans and their experiences with PTSD.

One of the six veterans, Jeff Lucey, committed suicide shortly after returning from Iraq, so his family tells his story in the film, Morel said.

“He had trouble dealing with the morality of the things he had to do while in Iraq,” Morel said. “I think Jeff’s story is emblematic of what happens to many veterans when they come home.”

In making the film, Morel said he aimed to raise awareness about PTSD and to show how veterans are working to educate the public about those who suffer from the disorder.

“I made the film to try and make a difference. My angle was not to have them talk about the war or even necessarily about PTSD, but about the translation of trauma into public expression,” Morel said. “Many veterans are musicians, artists and writers depicting the war in a powerful way. One day we’re going to be aware of a cultural change that comes from the Iraq War veterans’ testimonials and creative expression.”

Morel shared the story of a veteran who contacted him through the film’s website after viewing the movie’s trailer. The man said he had served with Ryan Endicott, one of the veterans featured in the film, and wanted to get in contact with Endicott. Morel said he sent the man’s contact information to Endicott, who was able to talk to the man that afternoon. After the conversation, Endicott called Morel to tell him the film had just helped to save a man’s life.

“On the Bridge” has been screened at several film festivals around the United States, and won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at Detroit’s Uptown Film Festival.

Morel said his favorite part of the filmmaking experience was forging relationships with the people involved.

“The best thing was the wonderful friendships. The wonderful people I met are now part of my family,” Morel said. “I was not making the film about them, but with them.”

More information about Moon, his music and his efforts to help fellow veterans can be found at www.jasonmoon.org. For more information about “On the Bridge,” visit www.onthebridgethemovie.org.