The 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the pandemic are straining the mental health of veterans

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Sept. 11, 2021 1 p.m.
Marine Corps vet India Wynne said most veterans aren’t aware of what mental health services are, or that they’re available.

Marine Corps vet India Wynne said most veterans aren’t aware of what mental health services are, or that they’re available.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Twenty years ago, India Wynne was a Marine standing in the chow hall watching the news as the Twin Towers collapsed.


Wynne, who uses gender neutral pronouns, said what followed left them broken, confused, depressed and full of anger. At one point, Wynne said, they lost the will to live.

After leaving the service, Wynne said life was a cycle of drugs, alcohol, homelessness and suicide attempts.

“Unfortunately, my story is not unique,” they said at a meeting of the Portland substance abuse prevention group, Lines for Life.

And experts confirm this, saying the combination of the 9/11 attack’s anniversary, the Afghan withdrawal 20 years later and the COVID-19 pandemic are stretching mental health services for veterans.

”As Marines, it is drilled into us to not ask for help, or admit any kind of weakness,” Wynne said.

In the military, physical pain was generally ignored and mental pain was never mentioned.

“Because of this I was unaware of any help that might be out there,” Wynne said.


Seven years ago, Wynne was diagnosed with PTSD and admitted to a program with the Veterans Administration.

”The diagnosis while scary also came as a huge relief,” they said. “My life suddenly made sense. Alcohol drugs, violent rages, suicidal ideation, were symptoms of a larger problem.”

Since then Wynne has received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in social work.

This month, they bought a home.

Wynne now helps veterans who contact U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office in Oregon, and is speaking out because most veterans aren’t aware of mental health services available to them.

Wyden, a Democrat and the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he’s working with Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo to provide more mental health services. “What I have been told by veterans again and again is: The health care available to them is terrific — if they can get it,” Wyden said.

In Portland, organizations as varied as Boeing, health care systems and Adidas sponsored a veterans’ event on Friday. More than 100 vets got everything from free haircuts to cold weather clothing, to pet services and COVID-19 vaccinations.

It is not only military members who struggle with the anniversary of 9/11. Many firefighters and police agencies were intricately involved in the response to the terrorist attacks on that day.

The current special agent in charge of the FBI in Portland, Keiran Ramsey, has released a video about his work collecting evidence at Ground Zero.

His team search trucks for human remains, cell phones, pagers, anything to help identify people.

“Just finding those little things,” he said. “And the whole time you’re wondering, ‘Did this person survive, or did they not?’”

He encouraged Oregonians to take a moment to reflect on the lives lost and to consider how we can make a positive difference in the country’s future.


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