When Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann returned home to Kansas from his deployment to Iraq in 2007, the psychological damage sustained from his experiences in war soon led him to have trouble not only reintegrating into public life, but into his own family.
Schumann’s struggles with PTSD—a mental health problem that occurs after someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event—is the focus of the film, Thank You For Your Service, starring Miles Teller and directed by American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall.
“There were days I didn’t think I was going to see tomorrow, where it was just so terrible, and the odds seemed stacked against me,” Schumann, 36, tells PEOPLE of his experience with PTSD. “You still have to wake up and smile and hug your daughter, and take her to school, and go to work and put on a smiley face and do your job. I thought I was going to die at my own hands quite a few times, just because I didn’t think I could accomplish it.”
Schumann, served three tours in Iraq before returning to his wife and two small children in 2007. Though some of the early symptoms of PTSD were apparent from the first tour, Schumann didn’t recognize them as signs his mental health was in serious jeopardy.
“After my first deployment, I had nightmares and stuff like that, but you think it comes with the territory,” he says. “You live through it because you want to be strong for the guys around you—I would have to be dead to stop fighting. You don’t realize you’re in it until you’re drowning, and by then, it’s too late.”
After considering suicide, Schumann contacts The Pathway Home, a therapy center in California specifically tailored to veterans.
“It was a turning point in my life. I was at rock bottom when I finally found that place,” he says. “You share your experiences in a group setting, and you don’t just talk about combat, you talk about the person you were before you went to war, because to understand who came back from war, you have to know who went to war.”
RELATED VIDEO: Beulah Koale Shares How He & Co-Star Miles Teller Bonded Before Their Movie ‘Thank You for Your Service’
Today, Schumann says the release of the book and movie play a special part in his ongoing healing process, and he hopes both will help to raise awareness for the care and understanding that veterans need from the government and the public when transitioning back from war.
The title of the film, Thank You For Your Service, alludes to a common expression many veterans hear when people find out about their service. Schumann says the phrase, for him and many veterans he has spoken to, has turned meaningless. He equates it to saying, “hello” without asking someone, “how are you?” It’s the beginning and end of a conversation, he continues.
Instead, Schumann suggests an alternative to the phrase while describing an interaction he had with a stranger at a gas station two years ago.
“This man grabs my hand really hard, looks me right in the eyes, and he says, “‘Welcome home, son,’ and turns around and walks away,” Schumann recalls. “I sat down in my truck, and just started to cry. Outside of family, no one said that to me, and it hit me hard. If you’re going to say anything to soldiers, say, ” ‘Welcome home.’ That’s all you have to say.”