Recently, Richard Johnson, a writer and illustrator of Drawing D.C. Together: A Journal of Urban Sketches, and former USMC Combat Artist Mike Fay were invited to visit Fort Lyon for three nights to speak with and sketch recovering vets. Johnson has written extensively about the lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Johnson and Fay spent time with several veterans, including Spc. Joshua Aaron Smart (click here to see his sketch), who at age 32 is recovering from an opiate dependency that stems from his time in Iraq in 2003. Smart was in a car when a mortar round landed just outside, leaving him in recovery that lasted only a week.
“I used to save lives and now I’m a drunk,” explains Smart, who now sleeps on the floor because of night terrors that cause him to believe he is still in Iraq and has to dress in a hurry.
Fortunately, Smart is just one of the many veterans who have come face-to-face with the brink of death and are choosing to move on and away from a life filled with drugs and alcohol.
Substance abuse is an escalating problem within the veteran community, but it may not start with alcohol or illegal drugs. According to the National Council on Alcholism and Drug Dependencet, “prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008.” And USA Today reports that, in 2009, “military doctors wrote almost 3.8 million prescriptions for pain relief for servicemembers.”
Although drug abuse is rising, the good news is that veteran homelessness is dropping. According to the U.S. Department of Housing, rates dropped 24 percent from 2010 to 2013.
The sketches that Johnson shares with the world show the men at their very core — including the fears that they have, the stories they can tell and the addictions that define them.