The Effects Of War Does Not Begin And End On The Battlefield…The Story of Scott Ostrom: Ex-Marine with PTSD

November 8, 2016 | No Comments » | Topics: TRUTH

In an attempt to calm a panic attack in his Boulder apartment, Scott Ostrom cups his hand over his mouth. After his honorable discharge from the Marines, Ostrom has struggled with daily life, from finding employment to maintaining healthy relationships.


Scott Ostrom counts the stitches in his wrist a few days after he attempted suicide. He believes that every combat vet struggling with PTSD has a contingency plan. "Every one of us has a suicide plan. We all know how to kill, and we all have a plan to kill ourselves."


Scott is comforted by a friend during an argument with his girlfriend over the phone. Sitting on the bed, he started crying, later comparing the relationship to the stress of combat. "Sometimes I get into fights. It’s not a talking thing for me. I handle it like a Marine, like it’s a combat situation," Scott said. "Being diagnosed with PTSD is an interesting thing. … It means I have nightmares every night. It means I’m hyper-vigilant — means I’m weird about noises in the middle of the night and lock my doors. It means I have no fuse and if I get attacked, I’m going to kill. … I don’t want to feel this way."


Ostrom in his apartment. Says Walker, “Scott’s girlfriend had packed up all her things and taken his anxiety and sleep medications. It brought on a panic attack and he had no medication for it. When I arrived he was pleading with his girlfriend to return his medications. Then he stood up and walked away. As I got up to follow, I heard this incredible crash. He was punching his door. He hit it four or five times; he basically destroyed it. That was the first time I really saw him going through it. As photographers we try to become invisible, but Scott was so focused on his troubles it was like tunnel vision. I started to question if I was actually there.”


A picture of Scott holding his little brother after graduating boot camp at Paris Island, S.C., in June 2003 hangs on the refrigerator at Scott’s new apartment. "I was happy after boot camp. I knew I was going to do something. My parents were proud of me." He talked about why he signed up. "I had just totaled my truck. I was like, ‘Do I really want to take the bus to work every day for $10 an hour and live in a crappy apartment?’ I was going to end up in jail or doing drugs. So instead of going to work one day, I just took the bus to the recruiting station." Scott said he was not aware of the looming war in Iraq when he signed up. "I was 18 years old. I didn’t watch the news. … I didn’t care. I just wanted to do something."


Scott Ostrom, with his honorable discharge papers and good conduct medal, in a Westminster, CO, housing complex. His apartment application was turned down because his background check turned up an assault charge from a recent bar fight. “You would think this would be worth something. It should be. It’s not, though,” said Ostrom before tossing the papers across the table. As Ostrom got up to leave, the manager apologized and said, “Thank you for your service.” Scott went outside and muttered, “Thank you for your service. Thank you for your f—ing service."


During their breakup Scott tries to leave his apartment as his girlfriend seizes his glasses. "She steals my glasses because I can’t see without them. She antagonizes me. She does it to push my buttons, but I’m not going to do anything. I’m not going to hit her." As soon as she entered, she immediately began carrying things to her car. "I dated this girl for almost two years, and it was the most tumultuous relationship I have ever had in my life. It was the closest thing that got me back to the levels of stress I had in combat," Scott said.


After a sleepless night, Scott stands at his window as he waits for his girlfriend to pick up all her things on May 24, 2011. He had rekindled the relationship and regretted it. "There’s no winning. I can’t walk out of the situation. … I feel like I’m constantly in combat," he said. He recalls his marriage before his second deployment to Iraq. "They told us it was going to be serious. And I thought I want to get married before I die. So I found this girl, fell in love." Ultimately the relationship added more stress to his time at war, "I found out that the girl I fell in love with and married was sleeping with a professor."


Ostrom lies on the floor with his dog, Jibby. “Scott called and said, ‘Hey Craig, I’m not doing anything today so there’s no point in coming out.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there in half an hour.’ His depression could cripple him for days at a time.”


Ostrom laughs with Marine Sgt. Dean Sanchez of the Wounded Warrior Regiment while shopping for a suit. “Sanchez was instrumental in saving my life,” Ostrom told Walker. “When he couldn’t help me, he put me in touch with the people that could. Sanchez is there to make me proud to be a Marine.”


Scott talks with his attorney, Christopher Griffin, after a court appearance at the Boulder County Justice Center on June 16, 2011. Scott had been charged with third-degree assault but ultimately pleaded guilty to harassment. A violation of a protection order was dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired. Griffin said he was greatly concerned for soldiers returning from war. "We send these kids off to war — we make them see things people otherwise wouldn’t have to see. Then we expect them to come back and behave like the rest of us. It’s breaking my heart, and we have to do something about it. As far as criminal justice goes, we need to look at these people differently."


Ostrom shops for a tie for his upcoming training for a job at The Cheesecake Factory. While initially determined to do well, he worried that his anxiety and personal life would affect his job. They did. He quit the job three months later.


Scott watches as his girlfriend struggles to carry his Tempur-Pedic mattress from his apartment. She’d arrived to pick up her belongings but was taking his bed because she said she paid for it. After a 15-minute struggle with the heavy mattress, she gave up and left in a rage. He said the relationship was exactly what he needed at that time in his life. "I needed someone to affirm the way I felt about myself. … I felt like if I stayed with that person long enough and received enough punishment, then I have in some way sought redemption for my actions overseas in Iraq."


Ostrom drinks a beer in the parking lot of a VFW post in Longmont, CO. “Scott decided he wanted to go out and spend some time with other veterans,” says Walker. “He figured he’d go to the VFW post, but he didn’t know a lot about it. But when he called them to ask about it, the bartender gave him attitude. Scott called me to say, ‘I’m pissed and I’m going down there to finish this argument in person.’ When he got there they were closed. I arrived to find him drinking alone in the parking lot.”


Scott watches an evening storm roll in outside his apartment on July 27, 2011. "I’m just feeling guilty about the things I did. I was a brutal killer, and I rejoiced in it. I was bred to be a killer, and I did it. Now I’m trying to adapt and feel human again. But to feel human, I feel guilty. I did horrible things to people, just to be evil. That’s why I can’t eat: I feel guilty, I feel sick."


Ostrom begins a day gripped by a panic attack. He says his hands and feet tingle, his arms and legs feel detached: “I’m short of breath and my chest is painfully tight.” He said the day before was one long panic attack and that this day was starting out similarly.


Having woken from a neighbor’s barking dog, Scott desperately searches his phone for a number to call Animal Control on Oct. 25, 2011. Scott was anxious to enroll in a residential PTSD program at Denver’s VA Medical Center and planned to go there later in the day. Scott, weighing 140 pounds — down 45 pounds from his normal weight — found his appetite and stress were directly related. He said he didn’t even think about food and hadn’t eaten very well for months.

Scott Ostrom waits outside the pharmacy at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Denver. After taking stock of Ostrom’s mental state, a doctor gave him a prescription for an antipsychotic medication. "I was terrified. I couldn’t control my own thoughts," he said. Two months later, Ostrom was accepted into the PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Program at the medical center. "Eventually," he said, "you get to a point where you just … break down. The only other option is to put a hand out and ask for help."


Photos by Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post