A new documentary airing on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network this month is one that’s sure to open the eyes — and the minds — of many.
“A Matter of Duty: The Continuing War Against PTSD” focuses on Randy Liberty, a retired sergeant major and current sheriff of Kennebec County, and his personal battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. It also follows several veterans in Liberty’s charge at the Kennebec County Jail.
The documentary first profiles Liberty’s experiences in the Middle East and his challenges adjusting to life back in Maine — dealing with his emotions, how it affected his job, and how it affected his family.
After finally seeking the help he needed, Liberty wondered whether there were similar combat veterans suffering from PTSD right in his own county jail. There were, and Liberty set out to establish a veterans’ cellblock. The documentary then chronicles the lives of several such inmates: their lives before the war and after they returned home, and their challenges with the law, with substance abuse, and with their own PTSD that ensued.
The film was born following Liberty’s appearance on Jennifer Rooks’ MPBN show “Maine Watch.” The segment was about veterans and PTSD, but after the show was over, Liberty began talking to Rooks in detail about his experience in Fallujah and his personal battle with PTSD.
“It was such a compelling conversation that I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Rooks said.
Rooks, no stranger to reporting on PTSD, later approached Liberty about doing a 30-minute “Maine Watch” special report. But during production it became apparent that there was an hour-long documentary in the project.
Rooks calls Liberty “courageous,” and that his candor in discussing his ordeal struck her.
“Randy Liberty realizes that, by telling his own story, he can help people,” she said. “He puts it all out there. He’s willing to do that. And it’s really unusual.”
According to Rooks, there are approximately 130,000 veterans in Maine — nearly one out of every 10 people, more per capita than every state except Alaska.
“We do have a lot of veterans, and we do have a lot of combat veterans, and we do have a lot of people who are suffering,” Rooks said.
According to an expert in the film, veterans are at least twice as likely to become homeless, two to three times more likely to have physical disabilities, three to four times as likely to have mental health disabilities, and two to three times as likely to suffer from substance abuse.
Although centered on the Kennebec County Jail, the film’s message is clear: veterans everywhere need help, there’s an unanswered epidemic of PTSD, and we have a responsibility to help the men and women we send overseas. Rooks would like to see national attention on the efforts in Kennebec County by a group of dedicated people who are working together to try to change the system.
“I hope that Randy’s story inspires other people who may not be seeking help,” Rooks said. “On a broader level, I hope that it raises awareness around the 99 percent of the public who is not serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — about the reality for many of these people who are coming back and trying to live normal lives among us.”
MPBN has held two public screenings of the film, and Rooks hopes to schedule others. She hopes to work with veterans’ groups to make it available to groups that could use it to perpetuate discussion.
The film currently is scheduled for several showings in November and December:
- 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10
- 10 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14
- 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16
- 9 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18
- 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17
- 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22.
To learn more, visit the film’s page at MPBN.