By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 4, 2009 - Army Staff Sgt. Megan Krause's words come out in a rush, as if she wants everyone to hear and learn from her story. Krause, an Army reservist with the 365th Engineer Battalion in Pennsylvania, does want people to hear her story, and she wants to connect with servicemembers so they don't go through what she did.
The 27-year-old staff sergeant is a part of the "Real Warrior" campaign, which aims at getting the word out to servicemembers about post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological trauma. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury sponsors the program. Krause spoke about her experiences during the Warrior Resilience Conference here.
On active duty, Krause served as a medic in Afghanistan and Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. It's part of her "can-do" persona that she felt she had it wired – she knew how her life was going to go.
"I was going to go off active duty, get a degree at Penn State and then get a job in Washington," the Illinois native said during an interview. "When I got home, I never thought I had any psychological issues. Not me. That was for other people. I had goals."
What she also had were flashbacks and nightmares. Still, she said, "I really felt fine. I knew what triggers to avoid, and I was coping quite well."
And she was drinking. "But I attributed that to just being a college kid," she said. Once in college, she enlisted in the Army Reserve and took pride in serving and taking care of her troops.
Krause was on her way to reaching her goals when post-traumatic stress disorder crashed down on her last year.
She was going through a rough patch – her father had lost his job, her brother and sister-in-law had deployed, and she had no job to go to after college. And her unit had been put on stand-by for hurricane relief.
"What I did not realize was that increases in symptoms were causing increases in bad choices, which were causing increases in problems," she said. "But I was so busy worrying about other things and drinking my life away. It all piles on itself, and there was no good way to start to fix it."
Krause was blowing off classes and papers. She skipped Reserve duty. One of her soldiers sat her down and told her that people were worried about her and that she should get help. Her company first sergeant reached out and tried to get her to seek help.
"Everybody around me noticed there was a problem, but I didn't," she said. "My first sergeant said, 'Let's fight this together.' But I still didn't get help."
Her epiphany came after a night of drinking. She was talking with friends after the bars closed when a truck backfired. She took off running across campus and got to her apartment.
"There was a light on, and I didn't remember leaving a light on," she said. "I called the State College police and told them that someone needed to come check my apartment, because I think the terrorists are waiting for me."
A police car and an ambulance arrived. Krause said she didn't want to go to the local hospital, but to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Altoona, Pa., about 45 minutes away. Her roommate drove her there.
"I spent three days in detox, talked to psychiatrists and psychologists and care coordinators, and they helped me," she said.
Krause worked with the Penn State veterans outreach office and her professors to get back on track for school, and graduated in December. She also received a job offer froma public relations firm in Washington.
"It's really amazing how as soon as you make the choice to get help and address the issue, that things start falling into place," she said.
Krause credits her friends, soldiers, military leaders and the medical system for the help.
She volunteered to be part of the Real Warrior campaign in March. "What I hope to do is take what was a really horrible experience and turn it into a positive experience for other veterans and servicemembers who may be struggling and don't necessarily see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
"If one other soldier out there sees my profile and can relate enough to say, 'I can do that. I can get help,' that's what I hope to accomplish with this program," she said.