On Tuesday evening, groups across the nation came together on Facebook for a joint viewing of Surviving Home, a documentary that looks at how veterans who have returned home after war must learn to connect with a civilian population that often does not see their invisible scars.
The film premiered Tuesday on PBS’s World Channel and a screening was held at Patriots Casa on the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus. Surviving Home was produced, directed, edited, and funded by Matthew and Jillian Moul, who attended the screening.
One of the veterans the film focused on, Bobby Henline, also attended the event at TAMU-SA. After returning from war, his scars were both visible and invisible.
An Army staff sergeant, Henline served four tours in Iraq. In 2007, Henline was evacuated to the United States after a roadside bomb exploded under the Humvee he was riding in, killing the other four occupants of the vehicle. Henline lost his left hand and suffered severe burns on the left side of his head and torso.
Henline lived in San Antonio for 11 years while undergoing numerous surgeries at Brooke Army Medical Center to reconstruct the top, back, and left side of his skull and face. The skin tissue on his skull was burned down to the bone. It took several surgeries to get the skin grafts to attach to the bone.
In the documentary and in person Tuesday night, Henline spoke about the feelings of alienation he endured, including concerns about whether his wife could ever feel the same about him again.
”I wondered if she would ever be able to love me the way she had before, ” Henline said. “Would she be able to look at me and want to kiss me again?”
Henline’s eldest daughter, 27-year-old Brittany Stout, was also in attendance and spoke about how her father’s trauma impacted her life. Because her mother had to give so much attention to helping her father heal, she was left largely on her own.
“I was 15 and found that I had to raise myself from that point on,” she said.
The film includes a scene in which Henline argues with his wife, Connie, about his need for psychological treatment. Henline opts not to seek treatment and the couple ends up divorcing in 2015.
As a form of therapy, Henline turned to comedy as a career. His comedy is dark and deprecating, yet his audiences laugh with him, not at him.
In a panel discussion following the film screening that included Henline and the film’s directors, TAMU-SA Director of Military Affairs Richard Delgado talked about the continuing need for veterans to seek help for mental health or other issues.
“A veteran will see another veteran struggling and will help them get help, but they won’t allow themselves to get the help they need,” Delgado said.
Delgado pointed to what experts have said causes many veterans to avoid seeking help: their training. “We are trained to push through to complete the mission,” he said. “Pain and suffering are secondary to that so we learn to endure, but then that willingness to endure keeps veterans from admitting they need help.”
As the discussion came to a close, Henline, who now lives in North Carolina, announced that he had made arrangements to admit himself to a counseling program in December.
Henline’s story is not the only one told in the film, which examines the lives of three other veterans.
The film also profiles 12-year Army veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris, who was honorably discharged in 2003 and diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010. When Cooper-Harris applied for benefits for her spouse, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied her claim because of her same-sex marriage. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that Cooper-Harris could not be denied spousal benefits.
Surviving Home can be viewed online at worldchannel.org.