World War II veteran introduces post-9/11 veteran to a different way of coping with the horrors of war
As an Army investigator, DAV life member Luke Jensen was tasked with investigating various noncombat fatalities of fellow service members during his 2009 deployment to Afghanistan.
Like many post-9/11 veterans, the Iowa native returned from the battlefield with some internal demons.
“I came home and expected it to go away, and it didn’t,” said Jensen, now a VA certifying official at Iowa State University’s Veterans Center. “And since I was home, I was able to drink my sorrows away, and it didn’t help anything. It just got worse.”
Self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs is not a rarity among veterans returning from war. In fact, according to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, more than 20 percent of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) abuse such substances.
For Jensen, the destructive forces of substance abuse culminated the day he put a gun to his head in front of his wife and two young children.
“I was ready to end it,” Jensen admitted.
Thankfully, he didn’t and later went to his local VA to seek professional help. Through nearly half a year of treatment, Jensen was prescribed five different kinds of depression medication, three types of anxiety medication and two different sleeping aids. But none of it provided the relief he was hoping for.
“There’s a reason there’s 10 different types of depression medication, because what works for you might not work for the next guy,” Jensen explained. “Everybody’s different. You need to find the right fit for you, and in order to do that you need to try new things.”
For Jensen, the right treatment was a technique known as transcendental meditation (TM), which was introduced to him by fellow Iowan Jerry Yellin, a 91-year-old veteran who flew on the last combat mission of World War II.
“I suffered thoughts about suicide and couldn’t work and had a terrible life,” Yellin reminisced. “And after I learned TM I became a real good person. I became quiet in my mind and quiet in my body, and I could do things I never dreamed of doing.”
“Jerry connected with me and shared his experience and how it helped him, and I thought, ‘I have nothing to lose. Might as well give it a try,’” said Jensen. “And it was the first thing that gave me some relief and started helping me sleep and lower my anxiety.”
Jensen said he started getting better right away after learning TM. Practicing the technique allowed him to tackle going to school full time while also balancing a full-time job. And this past spring, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and administration from William Penn University.
“Transcendental meditation allows you twice a day, 20 minutes a day, to go from the surface level, where everything is moving fast, to down within yourself to a very quiet space,” said Yellin, who has practiced TM every day since 1975.
“It’s like a power nap where I do my meditation and have a more clear approach or outlook for the rest of the day,” added Jensen. “It got me out of despair and hopelessness and provided me with hope.”
Yellin said techniques like TM that aren’t medically induced help veterans perform beyond their potential.
“There are other methodologies besides medications and expensive treatments that they can do themselves and have for the rest of their lives without spending a lot of time and money,” Yellin stated. “Learning TM is a one-time fee for a lifetime of help.”
For his part, Jensen said TM has helped him put his life back in focus—a life that will never again see him put a gun to his head.
“My daughters remember that to this day,” he said, “but they also understand that I’ve gotten a lot better and didn’t give up.”
Learn more online
To learn more about living with PTSD, warning signs and treatment options, visit www.dav.org/wp-content/uploads/DAV_PTSDBrochure-2.pdf.