JAMES SWIFT/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS
Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Robert Poston was a commanding officer at Fort McPherson. At that time, he was on funeral detail for north Georgia and parts of Tennessee — essentially, it was his job to inform parents that their sons had died in combat.
He recalled checking into a hotel one night. He sat on the edge of the bed, placed a .357 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
didn’t go off,” Poston recounted at a luncheon at the
Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon. “As
soon as I did that, I realized that everybody has stages that they go
through … apparently, I was in one, because I was depressed and had a
He recalled putting the gun down and picking
up a bible. He found himself looking at John 15:16 — “Ye have not chosen
me, but I have chosen you.”
Poston has been a National
Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) facilitator for close to a decade. Now
in his early 80s, the retired major works full time — without pay — to
help veterans in Bartow County file assistance claims.
While state agencies may help veterans process claims, he said it’s his goal to help local veterans develop them.
a guy comes in and says ‘I lost three of my buddies in a foxhole and my
lieutenant was killed and it’s bothering me right now,’ well, if you
put that down and took it over to Georgia and they sent the claim in,”
he said, “they’d bounce it back and say ‘Well, give me the name of the
lieutenant and who shot you and how did you get shot?’”
said that in the past, he’s sometimes spent seven or eight hours
trudging through records, newspaper articles and other documents to help
veterans file claims.
He recounted helping one priest with
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the Vietnam War, who was
asked by a State agency to list the names of people who were killed
during an especially bloody firefight.
“We went in and took
hours and hours, but we found his friends’ names and the specific
location where they died,” he said. “We provide all that specific
information and then they’ll approve the claim.”
Poston said he and his local staff have helped about 50 people receive
100% service-connected disability claims. At that rate, he said veterans
are usually in line for monthly government checks between $3,000 to
“We’re doing a pretty good job,” he said, “considering nobody gets paid in our organization.”
was joined at the event by Roger Marshall, a Forsyth County resident
representing the Birdwell Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit that seeks
to assist not just combat veterans but any military veterans — or first
responders — experiencing PTSD and/or traumatic brain injuries.
Marshall said the organization is looking to open a new intern program either in or near Bartow shortly.
“We’ve made a bid on a couple of places for this area,” he said.
Like Poston, he too felt suicidal urges while in the grips of PTSD-borne depression.
“I started losing time,” he said. “Like going out on the balcony, I would come in and my ex-wife would say ‘Where you’ve been?’”
He stood there for four hours, but said he had no recollections of doing so whatsoever.
was so heavily medicated that it was difficult for me to even
function,” he said. “I wound up being homeless, living out on the
streets, going to jails, going to institutions … I just didn’t die.”
Like Poston, at one point he got so low he decided to attempt suicide.
“I wanted to blow my brains out, so I was going to do that,” he said.
he could pull the trigger, however, he recounted hearing a talk radio
segment about a hotline for military veterans struggling with PTSD
He said hearing comforting, reassuring words from
another veteran wasn’t just enough to save his own life — it made him
want to do the same for fellow veterans in the throes of despair and
“We’ve heard first responders in this county and
others that we had to go get and send to an intern program because they
didn’t have something available in the state of Georgia,” he said.
For veterans and first responders experiencing PTSD symptoms, Poston said silence can often be lethal.
sometimes, he said the first step of the healing process is simply
opening up to somebody else about the problems and pains one is facing.
“Stressors can stay back in the back of your mind and not bother you for a long time, and then all of a sudden you’re angry for no reason and you don’t know what it is,” he said. “The more you talk about the stressor, the less it bothers you.”