'Poster Girl' Tells Vets' Stories of PTSD
Aaron Osowski
Robynn Murray was the poster girl of women in the military. She served as a machine gunner in the Iraq War and took on responsibilities reserved for the bravest of soldiers. But like many soldiers, she also found herself coping with the crushing effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon her return home.

Robynn is the star of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Poster Girl," which tracks her life back home over the course of two years of emotional pain. Robynn finds herself in a struggle to get treatment for her PTSD through the complex bureaucracy of the Department for Veterans Affairs.

On November 18, Murray visited the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point along with the film’s director, Sara Nesson, to show a screening of the film. The film was being shown as part of the Visions of War series.

Nesson decided to tell Robynn’s story after she met her at a veterans’ retreat at Martha’s Vineyard, where she was filming her first movie, "Iraq Paper Scissors."

​Sara Nesson (left) and "Poster Girl" star Robynn Murray (right) discuss the movie. 
Photo by Samantha Feld.
"Her story was so compelling to me that she had been a machine gunner in the Iraq War and was the first female that I had ever met that had served in combat," Nesson said. "And I just felt that I wanted to include her in my film, so I said, "Is it OK if I follow you back home after this?" and she said yes."

The veterans’ retreat, where Sara first met Robynn, was hosted by the Combat Paper Project, a group which helps veterans make paper out of their used combat uniforms as a therapeutic tool, and Warrior Writers, which encourages veterans to write poetry as a way to heal.

"The thing that first sparked everything … was I had submitted a poem to the newsletter for Iraq Veterans Against the War," Murray said. "But the thing was, is when I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking like, this is going to heal me, I was thinking, "I’m really pissed and I really need to get something down now or I might explode."

Capturing veterans’ emotions on screen was the main goal for Nesson in both of her films, and she saw them as avenues for veterans to share their stories that might have otherwise gone untold. Following veterans with PTSD, however, did not go without having effects on Nesson.

"I think I really began to understand what it’s like being a family member or part of the community around veterans and what it’s like to suffer as a result," Nesson said. "Sort of like secondary PTSD, I think I definitely was affected in that way."

Murray explained the problems returning vets with PTSD encounter upon return, including the fear of being labeled when applying for jobs. There’s an overwhelming sentiment with vets, she says, that bottling up emotions is necessary to function in society, which comes from their training in the military.

"It’s a very macho setting, a very high-paced job to even process it," Murray said. "Because you could begin to process it and then, if you’re still in the military you might have to go again, so it’s like having to restart everything that you’ve just done."

Although "Poster Girl" is about Robynn’s struggles, Nesson and Murray see the film and Robynn’s story as a microcosm of society’s greater problem in dealing with returning veterans.

"The one thing that I hope people take from this is an awareness of what war does to us, what PTSD is, what it looks like on a daily basis and, more important than that is, even though every person’s story is unique, mine isn’t. There’s so many of us suffering that way," Murray said.