July 18, 2018
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Struggles of a Warrior Nation

On America’s largest Indian reservation, war veterans fight the legacy of combat trauma

By Nicole Tung

Whether they went to war in Japan in the 1940s, Vietnam in the 1960s, or Iraq in this decade, Native American veterans share another struggle at home: coping with post traumatic stress disorder, without much help from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Nearly 22,000 Native Americans have served in the U.S. military, or are now serving in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. An estimated 30 percent suffer from PTSD.

But conditions at home are hardly adequate to help them through the psychological and physical damages inflicted in war.

There’s no veterans’ hospital in the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation. So veterans desperate for psychological help must drive hours, to Albuquerque or Salt Lake City, for treatment.

But some face racial discrimination or unsympathetic psychologists in the cities.

To deal with anxiety disorders, nightmares or suicidal thoughts, some try traditional healing methods. But many also resort to alcohol or drugs, as they try to keep their lives together in a land as harsh as it is beautiful.

Nicole Tung is a photographer based in Asia and New York. This essay won a 2008-2009 Hearst Photojournalism Award. See more of Nicole’s work at http://www.nicoletung.com.

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