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Photo exhibit debuts outside downtown Buffalo library to start discussion on veterans' mental health

The exhibit, followed by a panel discussion on April 3, aims to raise awareness about veterans struggling with PTSD when returning home from deployment.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rob Healy didn't hesitate to enlist in the Air Force Reserves.  

"I have military in my family going all the way back to the Revolutionary War," Healy said. "There was never a question of me joining the military."

Healy was eventually activated and deployed in the Iraq War. 

But of all the challenges he faced overseas, coming home was the most difficult. 

"It was very radical coming back," Healy said. 

Going from a war zone back to normal life, such as going to the grocery store, took a mental toll, changing him and even his relationships. 

"It takes a different sort of language to express what it's like to be over there to people who have not been," Healy said. 

It's why one of his coping methods has included the Odyssey Project, created by Brendan Bannon.

Credit: Robert Healy

"The idea of the project is that photography allows you to tell stories you can't tell in words," Bannon said. 

Bannon started creating photography workshops for veterans ten years ago, after getting close with a World War II veteran and wanting to pay it forward. 

The latest 'Odyssey Project' workshop includes photos from 42 veterans, which are now in an exhibit outside the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library through May 31.

Credit: Orlando Dickson

UB is then putting on a panel discussion called “Developing a Sense of Meaningful Belonging among Veterans."

It will be led by six veterans on Sunday, April 3, also at the library, to accomplish one goal for all who served.  

"Such projects are important and they are helpful as they are trying to rebuild their lives and participate in the civilian world," said Vaso Neofotistos, the panel project's investigator & UB associate professor of anthropology. 

That includes Navy veteran Erica Duncan.

"So this one is my photographic portrayal of what PTSD is like. You're always half drowning," Duncan said. 

Credit: Erica Duncan

Duncan had a hard time adjusting to life back at home because of the training she endured on the job and also because she was sexually assaulted on base. 

However, getting into the photography exhibit, as well as the panel discussion, has helped her.

Credit: Erica Duncan

"I feel like I have a purpose," Duncan said. "I really found myself through it."

It's also helped Healy find some serenity. 

"I have a way of communicating with people that I never would have imagined possible," Healy said. 

It's something trauma could never do. 

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