Kevin was very open and honest about the fact that he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He opened up to me (and to anyone who would listen) about the nightmares; the flashbacks; averaging two to three hours of sleep per night; the fears of IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) even on the Washington State highways that he’d driven for years; the imbalances in his body as a result of the numerous medications he was encouraged to take; the ineffectiveness of multiple rounds of inpatient treatment programs; and to add insult to injury, the limitations that having TBI and PTSD put on his career options within the military that he had dedicated his entire adult life to.
As is all too often the case, the treatment that Kevin was receiving for his TBI and PTSD was inadequate to address the problem. So Kevin, like many others in his shoes, began medicating himself with alcohol just to be able to survive from day to day. And while he was fully aware that this was not a productive solution to the problem, it was the only solution that provided the comfort he needed. And the other solutions being offered to him weren’t working. Proportional to the PTSD that it was intended to dampen, his drinking was severe.
The shortest, simplest answer to the question, “How did my Hero, Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson die?” is that he drank himself to death. His liver failed, and essentially poisoned his blood. Kevin spent his final days in a hospital bed, surrounded by his family, waiting for the peace of death.
There are those who will say that by being so brutally honest here, I am dishonoring Kevin’s memory. I understand that, and I respect that. The conclusion that I’ve come to, along with Kevin’s family, is that to the contrary it is a testament to Kevin’s love for his fellow human beings that he would want people to know how he died. He would want people to learn from his experience, so that nobody would again have to endure what he endured. He would want people to understand that not every casualty of war dies in battle. For many, the injuries suffered in war do not leave a visible scar. But rather they sit beneath the surface, killing the Service Person slowly, methodically, perhaps years after the battle… and further injuring their loved ones along with them.
My friend Kevin was killed in Iraq in May of 2004. He died in a hospital in Seattle in November of 2010.