As a veteran, there are many war stories that I could tell, but I do not. I probably never will. I was awarded some medals that still sit in boxes in my closet. I could not make sense of the world that I came home to compared to what I thought it had been when I left. A lot of things changed when I was in Iraq from March 2009-10. Flip phones became smart phones, people stopped following war coverage, and I had no way to reconnect with myself, much less anyone else.
I went to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to seek mental health treatment at the behest of my family. I filed for disability and tried therapy and medication. It took many months for my disability rating to come back but only five sessions with a social worker for me to drop treatment and medications cold turkey. Instead, I found solace in alcohol like many of my peers.
I clearly remember one conversation with my therapist: “So I have these persistent thoughts of killing myself, it messes up any rhythm of my day, I don’t know if it is the medication or me, but I keep blacking out.”
“I understand, but our treatment plan is for six sessions, so I am not really sure what to do with you”
How did I interpret this exchange? At the time, I did not think my problems were going to be solved in therapy, and I felt I was putting my career at risk by talking to someone. As a soldier, this left me with the sense that the VA did not care about me and even switching social workers would not be the answer. Why? Because those who have been psychologically damaged by traumatic experiences often believe that they do not have the right to receive adequate care. Nor do they believe that it is their right to even request care. I spent the next two years trying to negotiate my diagnosis without seeking treatment. Three years later, I was in Afghanistan.
Click. My pistol jammed? How many times had I cleaned, unloaded, and loaded it? That was a moment that lasted a lifetime as I sat on a dirty mattress on the floor of a plywood shack in Afghanistan circa 2013. Life is a fickle gift, and our worst moments can bring blinding clarity.
For me, that clarity changed everything; everyone has a right to care and support. Often folks do not know what is out there and available to help them.
Today, I have the privilege of working for a team that can meet anyone, anywhere in the county, day or night - every day of the year. There are resources to support anyone in moments of need. Things have changed at the VA as well. The VA is better equipped with amazing clinicians, including one who saved my life and set me on a different path. Now I am a social worker, and I work on a team called First Call for Chittenden County. We are a team of clinicians from various walks of life and experiences. Now I know that help is only a call away.
So whether you’re a veteran or not - if you need help - give 802-488-7777 a call. If you hear “Hello, this is First Call,” let’s talk about how we can help you. We are here to help.
Veterans can also connect nationally to the Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to talk to someone. Veterans can also text 838255 to connect with a VA responder.
If you or a friend is in need, please reach out.