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Struggles of a Warrior Nation (slideshow)

Native American veterans' forgotten battle with post traumatic stress

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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 resort to alcohol or drug abuse, as they try to keep their lives together in a land as harsh as it is beautiful.


The Navajo Nation in Arizona covers 27,000 square miles, and has a population of 180,000.

A ram's skull guards the land, at Canyon de Chelley on the reservation.

Photographs of Navajo soldiers during battle in World War II hang in a Codetalkers Museum in Gallup, New Mexico.

A photograph of the late William E. Tulley, who served in WWII.

This photo, taken of US Army Staff Sgt. Julius Tulley while he was on tour in Iraq, serves as a memory of his time there. Many Navajo veterans report developing nightmares, anxiety and depression after returning home from the battlefield.

Teddy Draper, 86, served as a codetalker during WWII. He served in Iwo Jima with the 5th Marine Division. Chinle, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

The Veterans Affairs Office in Fort Defiance is a trailer, in which paperwork is dealt with but little is offered in terms of medical and psychological assistance. Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

Donavon Barney, 28, served two tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Marine Corps. After returning home for good from active duty in 2005, he seemed fine, but later began suffering from depression and anxiety. He turned to alcohol as an "immediate nourishment" to cope, but has only recently begun talking about his wartime experiences, as a way to heal. Greasewood, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

Former Staff Sgt. Julius Tulley stands near an abandoned trading post. Greasewood, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

Felix Tulley is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He healed through traditional Navajo ceremonies, and is now a medicine man, helping other veterans readjust to civilian life by using traditional Navajo means. Blue Gap, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

American flags blow in the wind at the Veterans Cemetery in Fort Defiance, Arizona, where deceased Navajo soldiers are laid to rest.

The Tulley family prepares a meal of mutton for a special occasion, in St. Michael's, Arizona. Staff Sgt. Julius Tulley is on the near left.