Dennis and Mikell Delisle Fight Haunting Demons of Iraq War

St. Alban's Messenger

February 21, 2008 – FRANKLIN, New Hampshire – For Mikell Cousineau Delisle, 43, and her husband Dennis Delisle, 42, it’s been a long journey into a dark night. And even though today they are jobless, in bankruptcy, and  about to be evicted from their house, they believe they are beginning to get their lives turned around and want to help others who walk in their shoes. If you need attorneys for chapter 13 bankruptcy then visit to Benner and Weinkauf webpage.

They do so because the past has been even darker. They share the nightmare of Iraq.

Dennis spent 18 months there with the Army National Guard and retuned home in late 2005. With their daughter, she spent the time he was gone in their former Berkshire home.

Before he was sent to Iraq with the New Hampshire 744 Transportation Company, the Delisles worked at Lucille Foods in Swanton. When he left, she lost herself in her work and came home exhausted.

She refused to watch the war news but was buoyed by their daughter who said, “Well, if Dad can go to Iraq, I can go to college.” She did – and recently graduated.

But the Dennis who went to Iraq wasn’t the Dennis who came home. He had joined the regular Army out of high school (Missisquoi Valley Union High School, Class of 1984), trained in the U.S., spent four years in Germany, and then mustered out in 1990.

For the next 11 years he held down various jobs, the longest at Lucille Foods, which closed soon after his return.

His latest tour of duty with the Guard was the life-changer.

When he first returned home, Mikell simply noted the changes in her husband, and kept silent. There were times when his restlessness woke her in the middle of the night.

“You could tell he was on a mission in his sleep. You could tell he was driving a truck in his sleep. I mean the arms were going like he had a steering wheel, he was shifting, the whole nine yards. He even one time had his hand up and you could tell he was out the window with his gun because his finger was going. Shooting,” she says.

Dennis had told Mikell about the intensity of his experiences in Iraq. He revealed an incident to her during one of the weekends with the National Guard after his return home. Wearing his uniform again intensified his connection to the battlefield and what happened on one particularly harrowing day.

“My armory is close by the quarry where there was an explosion,” he recalls, as though still there. “I jumped off the end of a truck and grabbed a fellow soldier by his head and I had my knife out, ready to slit his throat before I realized it was an American uniform and saw his face.”

What followed were bouts with depression and thoughts of taking his life.

Mikell explains that her husband would “shut himself in a room with a computer and from the time I’d leave for work and come home, he’d still be in that same spot.”

And there were his continuing bursts of anger.

He had conducted many 40-truck convoy trips through Ramadi, a hotbed of insurgents and roadside bombs. In the third truck back, and in command, he talked to headquarters, and made split-second decisions. He constantly rehearsed the dozens of deadly situations that might arise and what was needed to keep the convoy going, to keep his men from harm.

He was good at it. But it carried a cost.

Remembering that he said, “After a while your emotions do get the best of you. Like one day I felt like I was fine, but I was angry with everybody. My emotions had gotten the better of me. But after somebody pulled me aside, and said, ‘Hey, Sarge, what’s wrong today? You’re not yourself. You’re tearing everybody up.’ I calmed down.”

When he displayed growing anger at home, Mikell took action. “I told him, ‘There is something going on. We’ve got to find you some help.’”

There were other signs as well, she said, talking about how at first “he would just kind of chuckle, more worried about what he had said, something I shouldn’t hear, when mumbling in his sleep.”

There is worry written on Dennis’ face even now, even when he smiles.

“At first I kind of got upset with her. Told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. She kept persisting, kept arguing with me about it. And then she started showing me other things, like I would get angry over nothing.”

Visits to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in White River Junction got to the heart of the trouble. Dennis suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with suicidal and homicidal symptoms.

Now he’s been through counseling and takes medication.

Things are getting better, slowly. The home eviction hangs over their heads. The $1,000 he gets a month from half disability payments doesn’t go far, when fuel costs $400 and rent can be as high as $700. But they both work at getting him back on his feet and he has held several jobs.

The situation has changed the woman of the house, too.

“I’m more vocal than I used to be,” Mikell said. “If I see something, I tell him. But now, he’s also learned to catch them for himself. Because we’ve got to work, I can’t stay here, every day, twenty-four/seven. He knows he’s got to be on his own. He knows he’s in that transition space. I don’t worry, because I know he can come through this.”

Mikell’s health has held up through the ordeal, though she suffers from alopecia, hair loss from a number of different causes, including stress.

“My anxiety builds up and builds up and builds up, my hair falls out. I hadn’t lost any since I was a little kid. And a year after he was home, I lost it all. Never lost any the time he was gone. It’s like the hair follicles have gone to sleep,” she says.

She’s brave about her life and about hair: she doesn’t hide her baldness.

Dennis’ smile relaxes when he looks at his wife and he pats the top of her head affectionately. His voice is clear and precise when he speaks of his PTSD, “Now I’m just learning to control. I try to recognize the early signs of it and think of things you can do to take you out of that position, that place.

“Like when I have a flashback, I tell myself, ‘I’m at home, I’m not in Iraq.’ I identify that I’m at home.”

He actually says those words, “‘I am at home.’” When he drives his truck, he says, “I identify that I’m in a civilian vehicle. Things to identify that I’m not in a war zone. That I’m home.”

After Mikell convinced him he needed help, he went to a counselor.

“I didn’t want to, because it made me feel like I was weak. And I was afraid that if they diagnosed me with PTSD, my military career would be over. And – it almost was. They wanted to medical board me out (of the National Guard) and I don’t have enough time to retire yet. So I would have lost all my benefits.

“That was one of the drawbacks to why I didn’t want to get help. But I went and got the help anyway and found out that the help is what I needed.”

He answered his counselor’s questions and talked about missions he had been on in Iraq. The sessions continued a couple times a week for three or four months.

Then the VA diagnosed him as having PTSD and, he says, a doctor “prescribed medication to help me control the emotions and that’s been working and I’m still seeing her once a month and I have an on-call counselor.”

The calls for help have been necessary.

“I almost shot somebody at my house,” Dennis said. “They were trying to break in and my first reaction was to try to protect my family. But I was in a military mind-frame. I wasn’t in a civilian mind-frame. So I grabbed a gun. My counselor was able to get me into a VA hospital before anything happened. I was able to get treatment for it. Get my medication straightened out to help me. And they’ve now diagnosed it that I have PTSD with suicidal and homicidal attempts.

Jobs have been hard to hold down.

“I’ve been though several jobs. One job was at Century Arms (a local weapons distributor) and they were test-firing AK-47s one day and the guy beside me dropped with a heart attack and I had a flashback and I thought he had been hit by a bullet.

“I got down underneath the table, and I couldn’t help the guy because I was taking a defensive fighting position. I was in a military frame of mind; I was back in war.”

Leaving the war behind has been difficult, but with good reason.

Dennis speaks of another experience in Iraq. “We were taking small arms fire and my buddy was pinned in his truck that was on fire and we heard his screams and couldn’t do anything about it.”

He saw many of his buddies die. And there are even worse scenes he won’t talk about.

None of this stopped the foreclosure on the Delisle home, however. A running battle to save their house was exasperating and ultimately futile. They  sought legal counsel, but the system – which placed their loan within a pool of mortgages – complicated matters.

It hadn’t help when in May of 2006, Dennis was hospitalized and fell behind in his $754 monthly house payment.

A grant from Military One Source Fund of $7,800 almost helped him catch up. Then the mortgage holder increased the monthly payment to $900, sent back several payments, and demanded $18,000 to put the mortgage back on track.

On his last call to the lender, he was told to call an attorney in Burlington who he said told him he had two hours to file bankruptcy in order to beat the public auction of the house.

Dennis and Mikell got a taxi and raced to their lawyer’s office. He frantically made efforts to reach the auctioneer. The call was five minutes too late and the property was lost.

Two weeks ago, Dennis received a notice of eviction telling him that the property is now owned by Wells Fargo, acting as trustee for the certificate holders.

“The Delisles believed that they were working in good faith with the lender for a period of months and then unexpectedly the lender switched gears and pulled the rug out from under them, too late for them to prevent the house being auctioned off,” said their lawyer Todd Taylor.

He added, “If they had called me earlier, I could have saved the house.”

Dennis said the financial entities involved in his case “don’t care one way or another” that he is an Iraq veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

With all this weight on their shoulders, the Delisles look out from their own troubles, to the pain of military families that are going through what they’ve experienced. With the knowledge they’ve gained, Dennis wants to help other soldiers and Mikell wants to help other wives.

“Wives need support, too,” she says decisively. “Wives don’t get that much support at all. The guys do have somewhere they can go for counseling. Us wives don’t. It hasn’t been recognized.”

She adds, “I want to start a woman’s group where the wives can come to my home, and sit down, and say, ‘OK, this is what happens, this is what we’re going through.’ And the next wife says, ‘O.K., this is what I did, this is what we did.’ Their own kind of support, through each other, because it’s the only way they’re going to get it.”

Meanwhile, Dennis and Mikell look for work, a new place to live, and work together to bring Dennis back to a healthy and safe place.

“If he can make it over there in Iraq, he can make it here. That’s exactly like I look at it. Like I have to look at it,” Mikell says.

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