During a tour in Iraq, U.S. Army officer Ryan Kranc was traveling on a convoy with his commander when they drove over a roadside bomb. His commander died, and Kranc survived.
That was 2003. For many years after, Kranc bore the guilt of the incident - until 2009, when he was deployed in Saudi Arabia and decided to get help.
"I came to the realization that I could no longer mask this," Kranc said in a phone interview early Friday with The Post. "I would pour my heart and soul into my professional life, but I would be a zombie at home."
Kranc was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder - or what he prefers to simply call "post-traumatic stress" - and started seeing a doctor, traveled through Germany, witnessed a leg of the Tour de France.
"It was a personal retreat," Kranc said. "It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't responsible."
Now, the officer, who is currently still serving, shares his story with others in the hopes of destigmatizing PTSD and challenging the idea that war leaves psychological wounds from which it is impossible to recover. Though the process has been far from perfect, Kranc said, he continues to lead a productive life, and is frustrated by the common perception that veterans can't move forward from their psychological traumas.
This was the message Kranc was trying to get across on Twitter earlier this week, when he responded to Nate Bethea, another veteran, with a string of tweets about how he was affected by PTSD. Unknowingly, he was joining a discussion within the online American veteran community that has been sparked by comments from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
The one-time Republican vice presidential candidate bolted back into the spotlight with her endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Tuesday, but a side story that didn't go unnoticed was her son's arrest at her home the day before she threw her support behind the billionaire real estate developer.
According to a police affidavit, Palin's 26-year-old son and Iraq combat war veteran Track Palin was arrested on domestic violence charges after his girlfriend called 911, saying that he was armed and had punched her in the face.
"Palin approached (his girlfriend) and struck her on the left side of her head near her eye with a closed fist," the affidavit says. "(She) got on the ground in a fetal position because she didn't know what else he would do. Palin then kicked (her) on the right knee."
Sarah Palin addressed the incident while stumping for Trump in Tulsa Tuesday.
"When my own son is going through what he goes through coming back, I can certainly relate to the families who. . . feel these ramifications of PTSD," she said before an 8,000-strong crowd, The Washington Post's Jose DelReal reported. "I guess it's kind of the elephant in the room, because my own family going through what we're going through today with my son, a combat vet. . .like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened."
In the same speech, Palin accused President Barack Obama of neglecting veterans, adding, "it is now or never for the sake of America's finest that we have a commander-in-chief who will respect them."
The statements angered many veterans, who took to social media to condemn Palin for simplifying their experiences and perpetuating the stereotype of the destructive veteran.
Others criticized Palin for placing the blame on Obama.
"It's not President Obama's fault that Sarah Palin's son has PTSD," Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), told NBC. "PTSD is a very serious problem, a complicated mental health injury and I would be extremely reluctant to blame any one person in particular."
He added: "I hope this doesn't become a political chew toy in a political campaign."
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in a given year. "Most of the people that I know who I have served with have gone through this," Kranc said.
Like Kranc, Bethea shared the personal story of how he got better.
"Hearing about Track Palin's issues makes me think he needs serious counseling. But, that need doesn't forgive his act of domestic violence," Bethea tweeted. "Underneath [Palin's] nonsense lies a very dangerous allegation - that all veterans are ticking time bombs, ready to brandish weapons."
In contrast, Bethea said, his PTSD manifested in sleeping problems and introversion. He didn't want to leave his apartment, and when he was outdoors, he felt like he was sweating.
Even so, he said, "At no point did I lash out at anyone, because that would have made me feel worse. It would have confirmed my suspicions of being defective."