‘A PERSONAL, PRIVATE PURGATORY’ Local veteran copes with own combat stress disorder by helping other vets start businesses

When Max Harris entered Iraq attached to the 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in 2003, he found himself immersed in dangerous territory among people of a different language and a different culture.

When Max Harris entered Iraq attached to the 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in 2003, he found himself immersed in dangerous territory among people of a different language and a different culture.

Harris, though, understood every word he heard and every image he saw.

As one of the few U.S. military Arabic linguists at the time, Harris’ job for an entire year was to break the language barrier and better understand the culture. In performing counter-intelligence insurgency work, he was always outside the safety wire, always among the people –assessing the threat level to the troops.

It came with a lifetime price.

“I witnessed some pretty horrific things that messed me up pretty well,” Harris said. “I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring what was going on around me because I didn’t have the language barrier.”

Harris suffers from acute continuous post-traumatic stress disorder – a mental health problem that can occur after a traumatic event such as war, assault or disaster – once known as “shell shock” in pre-Vietnam War days. With Veterans Day this week, Harris is an example that many people with PTSD can lead productive lives – professionally and personally.

“I think returning veterans are a tremendous resource for the Lehigh Valley and the Greater Pennsylvania workforce,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. “The biggest issue in continued economic growth is attracting people with skill; and people with time in the military have those skills.”

Since the war, Harris has obtained a college degree, secured a top position in a technology solution company, started a nonprofit PTSD support organization and is preparing to launch an entrepreneurship initiative to provide education and resources for veteran entrepreneurs interested in starting a business.

“The greatest majority of people would be surprised that the person sitting next to them has PTSD,” said Vietnam War veteran Bruce Curry. He is Lehigh Valley Health Network’s director of access and support services for the department of psychiatry, which diagnoses and treats patients with PTSD.

“Most times it’s a personal, private purgatory, and they [veterans with PTSD] can lead a very normal life,” Curry said.

Jennifer Glose
Reporter Jennifer Glose covers health care, Berks County and other topics. She can be reached at jenniferg@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 111.

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