"I can't take it anymore -- I'm leaving," the woman told Diane Kinney.
Kinney is founder and director of Base Camp Hope, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that offers military veterans, service members and their families counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The woman told Kinney that her husband, a former Marine major who had spent time in Iraq, was sinking into depression. He hadn't gotten out of bed in 24 hours. Instructing the woman to "secure all weapons" she went to see the man, accompanied by a member of her organization's board, a Vietnam vet who also suffered from PTSD.
"Marines always look you straight in the eye; this guy couldn't look you in the eye," McKinney said. She and the other veteran talked to the troubled man in the familiar military language -- especially, "We've got your back." Six hours later, "he could finally look us in the eye."
Today the couple remain together and the man is doing well, Kinney said. "He'll probably be dealing with PTSD all his life, but it won't be as bad because we've given him some of the tools to deal with it, and he knows he can call us anytime."
Kinney served in the Army from 1975 to 1977, then served in the Reserves until 1986. Later, she joined a group of street evangelists, then the Patriot Guard, which attends the funerals of armed forces members. She started operating the chaplain's table at state StandDown events, run by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans to inform veterans about services and benefits.
Kinney kept meeting veterans who appeared to be suffering from PTSD, but were not getting professional treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs' health-care system. The VA offers some excellent services, Kinney said, but as a large government bureaucracy, it's not for everybody. So some people "were dealing with their PTSD in disastrous ways," such as abusing alcohol.
Worried, the devout Kinney prayed for these veterans. "I said, 'OK, God, what are you going to do about those guys?' He kind of turned it on me and asked, 'What are you going to do?' ... I'm somebody, and if I don't step up, who's going to?"
Base Camp Hope currently serves about 10 clients and their families, offering one-on-one counseling and group meetings. Working with veterans of every war since World War II, Kinney helps deal with depression, chemical abuse and other ailments associated with PTSD. Her approach combines empathy based on shared military background with religion. The Bible's David likely was suffering from PTSD himself, Kinney said.
"The guy was messed up big time," she said. "I think most soldiers who come back have it to some extent."
Base Camp Hope has acquired official nonprofit status, and Kinney won an award from the McKnight Foundation. But the organization is located in a tiny office in an oral surgery building. She's hoping to move to a larger space, where she can offer 24-hour drop-in counseling.
She's also like to establish spaces where clients can engage in constructive activities: woodworking, car repair, gardening. "When my hands are busy, then my mind's not," she said.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583