By Hunter Holcombe
Q&A by Stacey Kennelly
After Sgt. Chess Johnson was shot through the eye while fighting in Iraq, he was devastated to learn he was no longer fit to serve. Returning home with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, he drank heavily, abused drugs, and raced his motorcycle at dangerous speeds.
In Exit Wound, Hunter Holcombe documents how Johnson and his wife found a unique program in Idaho. There, Johnson and other vets channel their need for adrenaline into outlets like skiing and paragliding, and face their fears by talking in group sessions.
What inspired this documentary?
I made this film because of this statistic: Young veterans are three times more likely to die from reckless accidents and suicide after returning home than they are while actually serving in combat.
What did you learn?
I learned that veterans feel disregarded in their communities, and that the current system of handling PTSD, which includes therapy and heavy medication, doesn’t work. Instead, the most effective methods, like having them talk to one another while engaging in positive activities, are actually much less costly.
How have viewers responded?
The film was screened at festivals in San Francisco, Idaho, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., and was nominated for a student Emmy. The appreciation from veterans was the most rewarding. I was even told that the film saved the lives of a few suicidal veterans.