America ReFramed

Buried Above Ground

Season 04  Episode 20

Filmed over six years, BURIED ABOVE GROUND follows three Americans fighting to overcome the paralyzing grip of PTSD: Luis Carlos Montalván, an Iraq War veteran who has emerged as a best-­selling author and leading PTSD awareness advocate; Erundina López, a survivor of child abuse and domestic violence who has battled addiction for years; and Ashley Boudreaux, a fifth-­generation New Orleans native whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Their personal journeys shed light on an underreported mental health condition that is often misunderstood and left untreated.

The film builds on the growing awareness of PTSD as a phenomenon that negatively impacts combat military veterans like Luis whose symptoms turn his daily life into a personal prison. Far less visible are the stories of survivors like Erundina and Ashley who represent a large population of people affected by PTSD (the National Center for PTSD estimates that about seven or eight out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives). Intimate moments from their therapy sessions, home life and relationships illustrate how the road to recovery takes many shapes while being fraught with obstacles and setbacks.

Luis remembers and relives the ambush, combat and trauma that left him unconscious. Erundina, who first experienced child abuse at the hands of her father, ran away at age 14. By age 17, she was a teen mother and married to an abuser. After a second abusive marriage, she sank into depression, embraced alcohol and began neglecting her son. One week after Ashley was married in the heart of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina struck and seared into her mind images of widespread calamity and overwhelming loss of life.

Over time and with support, each finds hope and new pathways to living a meaningful and purposeful life. Luis finds strength by telling truths in his memoir "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him." Aided through the bond with his service dog, “Tuesday,” he becomes a national mental health advocate and inspires Senator Al Franken to introduce a congressional bill to pair service dogs and veterans. Armed with a desire to help battered women, Erundina aspires to become a social worker and receives her master’s degree. In New Orleans, Ashley rebuilds her life by reconnecting with her community, confronting the legacy of Katrina, and celebrating her 10-­year wedding anniversary in a new home she and her husband are lovingly restoring.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact SAMHSA's national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).