There is no one sure way to reach combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or substance abuse. But a new hip-hop album called Combat Medicine, released Wednesday, might help. It was written and performed by George "Mik" Todd, who goes by the name Doc Todd. He's a former Fleet Marine Force corpsman — essentially a combat medic — who served alongside the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
Todd's style is tough and direct in a way that only one veteran can be to another. In the song "Not Alone," he urges veterans to take action in their own recovery.
Take those bottles out, dog
and pour 'em in the sink.
Take the needles out of your arm
And the gun away from your forehead.
It's time, man.
You've been through enough pain.
It's time to stand back up.
Todd says the song is about empowerment, "about taking charge of your life, taking charge of your transition" from the combat zone to civilian life.
In his own transition, Doc Todd went through many of the issues other veterans face: shame, isolation, self-abuse. For Todd, it began in 2009 after he was in a large and dangerous battle in Afghanistan. Many of his friends were seriously wounded. His roommate was killed. Todd was medically evacuated to Germany after he fell seriously ill with pneumonia.
"That tore me up so bad, because I felt like I was alienated from the guys I served with," Todd recalls. "I felt like there was an asterisk next to my deployment. I felt like it would've been better if I got shot because that would've been more heroic."
Todd says it took him several years before he got help for his PTSD. He was depressed and started drinking heavily. Eventually, he realized what he needed to be doing was helping other veterans. With savings from his job as a money manager and help from his wife, he was able to quit his job. He'd been making music since he was a teenager. Now, he wanted to use his music to help veterans heal. And he had plenty of material for his lyrics.
The struggle is real
Found a feast
And lost a soul
Eventually my drinking
It got out of control
There in darkness, I roamed
Struggling to find home
See Suddenly death didn't
Feel so Alone
In the video for "Not Alone," a young veteran gets out of bed and immediately reaches for the bottle. That scenario is all too real, says former Marine Zach Ludwig who served with Todd in Afghanistan and is now working through his own PTSD.
"He knows what to say and how to say it," Ludwig says, pointing to Todd's combat experience. "What the man says is just blunt force truth."
Todd says facing the truth, no matter how difficult, can do more to help veterans than "coddling" them. His mission with Combat Medicine is to show vets they're not alone and to urge them to get help.
"We have to be responsible for empowering our own lives. And it doesn't really help when the overwhelming narrative is victimization and brokenness," he says.