Invisible wounds

Every day, an average of 22 soldiers who made it home safely die from invisible war wounds.

On Memorial Day, when the nation remembers the sacrifices of those fallen on the battlefield, a Minot woman is remembering a group of veterans whose combat-related deaths come with stigma rather than honor.

Miranda Schuler has created a display of 22 boots, representing the U.S. veterans who commit suicide every day as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. She and her husband, Aaron, a member of the National Guard, placed the display outside their home at 104-10th St. SW Thursday evening. It will remain up into this coming week.

Schuler said the display may remain into June, but it definitely will be in place on June 27, which is National PTSD Awareness Day.

Schuler’s commitment to spread awareness of PTSD is in memory of her brother, Army Sgt. Steven Knudson of Bottineau. Serving three tours in Iraq, Knudson earned military commendations and saved the life of a young Iraqi girl while under fire before his discharge in February 2010. On Thanksgiving weekend that year, Knudson, 28, committed suicide.

“His death, ultimately, was a result of his time in combat. He didn’t die there, but he did when he came home,” Schuler said.

Schuler said she started on her memorial project before last Veterans Day. After considering how to signify 22 deaths a day, she settled on military boots because they represented who her brother was.

Putting out a Facebook request for help, she said, “People just started giving me boots.” However, the boots, most of them well worn, came in slowly. Her project received a boost when the Airman’s Attic at Minot Air Force Base supplied several pairs. Her 22nd pair arrived this past week, ensuring her Memorial Day display wouldn’t be short.

“Every single pair of boots has a story,” Schuler said.

Print-outs of the stories are included next to the boots. The first pair of boots is special to Schuler because they came from a friend of her brother. The friend had purchased the boots for $127, which brought no end of teasing from Knudson because the Army provides a pair for free. The second donated pair is in Knudson’s size. Another pair came from Schuler’s brother-in-law, who also served in Iraq. One pair had belonged to a female soldier.

Niess Impressions of Minot donated the banner after learning about the project.

Schuler said PTSD touches many lives, affecting numerous people in Minot. Suicide among current and former military members also is much higher than the general population.

“Every pair of boots signifies one person who has a family,” she said. “These are real people who served our country, made it home but didn’t complete the last mission of coming home and acclimating to life here. And it happens a lot.”

Schuler said she has come to terms with her brother’s lost battle with PTSD.

“Sometimes when they come back, they really don’t come back, which is a sad thing,” she said. “I understand it now. I wish I didn’t have to, and I wish we didn’t have to as a family.

Veterans considering suicide often show signs of depression, anxiety, low self esteem or hopelessness, according to Signs include feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep; deteriorating physical appearance; withdrawing from society; losing interest in hobbies; frequent and dramatic mood changes; expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame; and talk about feeling trapped.

Signs of pending suicide include engaging in risky behaviors, showing violent behavior, giving away prized possessions, putting affairs in order and seeking access to firearms, pills or other means of harming oneself.

“There’s help available to them. That’s important,” Schuler said.

Schuler said her intent is to display the boots at various times of the year. She is willing to lend the display to individuals or groups who want to host it temporarily. She also continues to collect boots to make additional memorials for others who want to display them, and she is collecting stories from families of veterans affected by PTSD.