What PTSD Drove a Veteran to Before he Disappeared

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Kate Lay had always been skeptical of love at first sight. She’s practical. She’s a surgical nurse who was born and raised in Iowa.  But she says practicality flew out the window the first time she laid eyes on the man she would eventually marry.

“He was a Marine.  So, he was big and buff, and beautiful.  I fell in love with him right away,” she said.

After proposing, Brandon finished his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.  They married, bought a house, and started life on their terms.  She said Brandon’s job as a delivery driver wasn’t fulfilling his ambitious dreams of traveling the world and helping people.  She could see that he was bored.  Still, she never dreamed that one day he would disappear.

Kate said, “Everything that I thought I knew got torn out from underneath me.”

One day, she came home from work and Brandon was gone, along with his Jeep and his dog.  Kate called the police.  “I didn’t even know if he was alive.”

Several days later, Brandon finally called.  He was in a small town in Montana.  The secrets were about to be revealed.  Kate explained, “Not a single person knew what was going on.”

Brandon had become addicted to crystal meth.  He’d been a master at hiding it from Kate.  Remember, she’s a nurse.  He explained that the week prior he’d lost his job as a result of his drug use.

At that moment, Kate realized, “I don’t know this person that I’m living with.”

Brandon was the only person who knew.  Even he wasn’t sure anymore.  He explained, “Life and death situations were real to me every day.  Wiping away the dirt from an IED...is it going to explode in (my) face?  That changed me.  I became numb.  I lost all hope of the future.  A lot of pain.  Thinking how wonderful it would be just to end it.”

It’s a raw, aching description of life with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Kate didn’t realize when she looked into her husband’s eyes he was reliving the explosions that literally rattled his brain, the gunfire, the atrocities, the deaths of his three comrades.  One was his best friend.

“It drives you to want to take your head through the wall.  You don’t want to relive those (memories).  It stirs up so much emotion in a short period of time and it can come on from anything… so, to me, drugs was just like, ‘Well, I’ll give it a shot,’” said Brandon.

One-hundred and five-thousand U.S. veterans admit to abusing drugs.  Nearly 340,000 have PTSD.  More than 500,000 are classified with depressive or neurotic disorders.  But those numbers come straight from the VA.  They don’t account for the men and women like Brandon who never went to the VA for treatment.

Once Brandon had detoxed and come home, Kate figured the practical thing would be to point him in the right direction.  She searched and found a new initiative.  Together, they flew to New York.  They met with Gen. George Casey.  They helped to launch a new project that recruits men and women who have been to battle.

Project Cohort is a wilderness course specifically designed to help vets with PTSD.  Brandon said, “It sucks.  Addressing those problems.  Reliving those memories.  But it’s gotta be done."

Brandon is completing training for his new career as a Project Cohort guide.  And Kate?  After PTSD led to drug use that nearly cost her marriage, Kate decided the most practical thing to do would be to take on Brandon’s mission as a team.

She said, “The current rate is 22 vet suicides per day.  We’re here to help you if your life looks perfect and it’s not.”

Click here for PTSD resources.


  • Yoda

    I’ve heard that meditation can help with PTSD. Also lithium supplements. I don’t know…it’s a terrible thing.

    • Emersyn

      Lithium is for bipolar disorder and needs to be monitored closely as it causes serious damage over time and has serious side effects if a client skips or forgets doses. That’s a terrible medication suggestion for PTSD vets.
      Meditation is one of my strongest recommendations to vets though.

  • Jenni

    Thank you for sharing! Wife to a combat vet and there needs to be more attention brought to what they suffer once they’re home.

  • Songplayer

    A heartbreaking and frightening fact is that multiple generations of people in many countries have lived their entire lives in war zones. Millions of folks with PTSD untreated. The implications are huge.

  • Nancy Drown

    My son was a marine, he killed himself last oct 6th. If you want to help people please help these veterans who are hurting inside. You know how they feel . Please help. Thank you so much for your services, thankyou thankyou. I hope you recover fast .

    • bjertbjaeger

      You should call your governor and ask why it took over a year for any action at all to be taken against Bernard Nesbitt. Bernard abandoned his duties as a VA nurse, shut off telemetry alarms, and as a result a Navy veteran died. It took months of calling the governors office and the VA hospital before anyone their could even remeber the sailors name. The whole time the republicans were going after Obama for the VA problems he actually inherited from the Bush administration, who apparently just ignored what Clinton handed him.

      Politicians only care about bets when it benefits them.

  • bjertbjaeger

    Research and anecdotal evidence show that cannabis can help veterans deal with PTSD, several veterans have testified to that fact in Iowa, and what research has been done has confirmed it. Nothing should be off the table in healing the wounds we created by sending our sons and daughters into a war for corporate profits.

  • Dee

    It also needs to be noted that families of veterans need just as much support in cases where their military spouse/parent suffers PTSD and cannot be a spouse/parent. Children are paying a large price when they lose their fathers as active participants in their lives. There seems to be no resources for these women. It is heartbreaking. There is so much debate about helping illegal aliens and those working at minimum wage but no real conversation about provided support to our veterans and their families. The price they pay for our freedom is higher than most of us realize.

  • Halee

    very glad to see this. sound so close to home!
    This is something so many deal with, yet so many know nothing about! Glad someone is spreading awareness! Thank you for sharing your story!!

  • Missy Cunningham

    I had 2 sons that had PTSD . Both was in the army and went to war. One got some help on his own the other didn’t. And now he’s gone for ever. His last time coming home he had changed then his wife was cheating on him. His wife would not let me see him before he was buried. So please please help them with PTSD so no family has to go through this. Thanks

  • MSgt Richard Deay

    Brando Lay was a top 5% Marine that I served with at 3D CEB, 29 Palms California. He is the guy you want in your fighting hole. When I heard of his decent into drug use it was shocking to say the least, he was such a great Marine who inspired those around him. I wish him the best and I hope he continues to help those that need it. Marines like him have a special understanding of what Afghanistan means.

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