The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 59

Writing As Therapy: Retired FSO on Coping with PTSD
On July 25, AFSA welcomed
retired FSO and 2007 Rivkin
dissent award winner Ron
Capps to discuss his new
Seriously Not All Right:
Five Wars in Ten Years
ner Press Inc., 2014). The
memoir details his experi-
ences as a wartime observer
during his 14-year Foreign
Service career and as a senior
Army Reserve o•cer.
Capps began the talk by
reading a passage about see-
ing war casualties from a Ser-
bian infantry attack on a town
in Kosovo. He recalled feeling
helpless as an observer, a
“tourist among victims.”
Capps was witness to
many harrowing events
during his years of service:
Rwanda from 1995 to 1998,
Kosovo from 2000 to 2002,
Afghanistan and Iraq from
2002 to 2004, and Darfur
from 2004 to 2007. Haunted
by the brutality, he developed
depression and started hav-
ing violent, graphic dreams.
While in Afghanistan,
Capps says, he realized he
needed help. He sought
treatment and, for a time,
got better. However in 2005,
while on a United Nations
mission in Sudan, he relapsed
significantly, spiraling into a
deep post-traumatic stress
disorder episode. He began
to drink heavily and even
attempted suicide.
Capps read an excerpt
about that period: “I was filled
with a sense of failure and
frustration, a sense
of conclusion. It felt
as if I had reached a
logical place in my life
to end it.”
A well-timed phone
call from his wife inter-
rupted the attempt.
He realized that he
was “seriously not all right”
and needed more help. He
returned to the United States
and retired in 2008 to seek
treatment for PTSD.
Throughout his struggles
in some of the most danger-
ous places in the world, one
thing remained constant:
writing. Separate from the
crisp, value-neutral reports he
regularly sent toWashington,
Capps filled journals with
uncensored notes of what he
was seeing and experienc-
ing. He used these notes and
journals to write his book.
“I found a way to write
my way home when medical
treatment wasn’t working for
me,” he said. An excerpt from
his book speaks on the heal-
ing process of writing: “It was
the first time I let my guard
down about how messed
up I was, because of what I
had been a part of, and had
witnessed firsthand.”
Inspired to help other
veterans cope with PTSD and
shed light on the disease,
Capps created the Veterans
Writing Project ( in 2011 and is
currently the organization’s
director. The nonprofit pro-
gram o‹ers
free writing
and semi-
nars to
and their
In a question-
and-answer session
after the talk, Capps
discussed how he’s
dealing with his PTSD today:
“I haven’t had any ‘seriously
not all right’ days in quite a
He also touched on his
work at theWalter Reed
National Military Medical Cen-
ter in Bethesda, Md., where
he teaches weekly writing
classes to active-duty service
members with PTSD.
“There’s a stigma attached
to asking for mental health
care,” he says. “The whole idea
really, for all of us, is to get
beyond the idea that mental
health care di‹ers from health
care. It’s just health care.”
To view Capps’ talk, please
go to
–Brittany DeLong,
Assistant Editor
In early August, the first intern in a new joint
program o‹ered by AFSA and the Hispanic
Employee Council of Foreign A‹airs Agencies
came toWashington to begin her internship.
We are thrilled to welcome Gabriela Cardozo,
whose internship is in the O•ce of Environ-
ment, Water and Conservation within the Bureau of Oceans
and International Environmental and Scientific A‹airs.
The AFSA/HECFAA internship is modeled on a program
AFSA and the Thursday Luncheon Group have collaborated
on since 1992. Each summer, it brings a minority college
student to the Department of State for an internship.
Cardozo graduated this past June with a master’s
degree in public policy from the University of California-Los
Angeles Luskin School of Public A‹airs, with a focus on
environmental and international policy.
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