Military Resistance and PTSD Soldiers Find Home at Coffee Strong

At Coffee Strong, anti-war veterans give coffee and advice to soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

| November/December 2012

  • Coffee Strong
    Iraq War veteran Josh Simpson is a founding member of Coffee Strong, outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
    Photo By Paul Dunn for YES! Magazine

  • Coffee Strong

On June 26, 2011, U.S. Army Ranger Jared August Hagemann removed his M1911 from its holster. The 25-year-old already had carried the sidearm with him on eight deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, so he knew how much damage even a single round could do against flesh and bone. It was late Sunday evening at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Hagemann stood in a training area, stalked by a terrorist more relentless than any Taliban suicide bomber. His opponent’s name: post-traumatic stress disorder, the clinical term for a severe form of anxiety usually known by its acronym, PTSD.

Staff Sgt. Hagemann placed the muzzle against his right temple and pulled the trigger. His obituary, published by his hometown paper in California’s San Joaquin Valley, said only he had “died unexpectedly,” words his widow would dispute.

U.S. veterans of post-9/11 combat are taking their lives in alarming numbers, and PTSD seems to be the primary cause. If the military’s response is inadequate, is anyone else ready to help GIs heal their psychic damage?

Ask Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, Jared’s widow and the mother of their two children. She’s sitting in a coffeehouse not far from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), a military reservation in western Washington that is home to 100,000 soldiers, Marines, Air Force personnel, their families, and civilian contractors.

Though JBLM is nominally in Starbucks country, its neighborhood coffeehouse is no ordinary caffeine bar. Wedged between the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 and a Subway sandwich shop, Coffee Strong is run by vets and strategically positioned 300 yards from JBLM’s gate. Active-duty personnel and veterans get free java and advice. Civilians patronize the shop as well, which exists mostly on donations from those who support its cause.

The coffeehouse is part of a grassroots movement of veterans and pro-GI, anti-war Americans determined to help active-duty personnel and discharged veterans receive benefits due them, get out of the military, or cope with what the U.S. government either can’t or won’t treat effectively: PTSD, the mental illness caused by experiencing trauma, like the horrors of war.

6/18/2014 2:54:35 AM

This is really sad but thanks to Jorge and his coffeehouse for such an amazing work. It gives us immense inspiration to come forward and help.

5/27/2014 1:53:08 AM

The military people always has to be active and in form because at any moment the enemies may attack your country. TO be active they uses to take coffee in It makes them active as well as protects them from health related issues and from different diseases also. Disease like the Diabetes can be kept in control by taking Coffee.

Heidi Behr
2/25/2013 12:57:37 PM

There Re still so many unserved veterans that we can help. Therapists across the country can help alleviate the wait time by offering free treatment to veterans and their families through - please help publicize this amazing resource.

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