One Veteran Continues To “Adapt and Overcome” After Military Service
March 06, 2020 | 4-minute read
Upon leaving the U.S. Army infantry after seven years of service, Jesse spent his nights dreaming about explosions and firefights in Iraq, followed by days trying to drink the memories away. He was jumpy too. Loud noises in the distance triggered hypervigilance that affected the people around him.
Jesse had served in two extremely volatile areas of Iraq: Baqubah and Ramadi. While he was there, his unit experienced heavy guerilla fighting and insurgency and suffered many casualties.
When he returned to the U.S., Jesse had trouble transitioning to civilian life. At first, he lived on the money he earned during his deployment, and when that ran out, he turned to unemployment benefits.
“I no longer had equipment to maintain. I no longer had to have accountability of my soldiers. I had nobody to lead,” Jesse recalls. “It’s a challenge, because that’s what gives you purpose to get your head off the pillow in the morning. So, having that not to do anymore, you lose yourself.”
Without a sense of meaning and with no official missions to accomplish, Jesse spent two directionless years. “I did nothing but hang around, waste time, waiting to get inebriated — just waiting to get that next drink,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to do with myself, so that’s when I turned to substance abuse. That wasn’t a good way to cope.”
Jesse ultimately got a job but soon lost it because of his excessive drinking.
“That’s when I got a kick in the chin,” he says. That job loss shocked him into an important realization about his life: “I’m not setting a good example for my brothers and sisters. I need to stop messing around, get my life in a better situation, and be the big brother that my family deserves.”
Jesse’s military training took over from there. “It’s realizing, ‘You know what? OK, something went wrong. Let’s work around it. Let’s adapt and overcome,’” he says.
Now, nearly a decade later, Jesse credits his therapists at VA with his recovery and for, eventually, helping him start a new life. “They were listening to me and allowing me to vent. I’ve found out that the best way to heal is to vent and relive it,” he says. “It doesn’t numb it, but it helps me get over the intense emotion.”
After successfully undergoing eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, Jesse was hired as a medical support assistant in the mental health department of the same VA hospital that helped him recover. In his first week on the job, he answered the phone to find a Veteran in crisis on the other end — a situation he never expected.
Again, his military training took over.
“I started talking on that phone like if I was talking to one of my soldiers on the radio,” he says. “‘Do you understand me? How, copy, over.’” The Veteran caller responded to the military radio lingo, and after a few minutes of talking with Jesse, he agreed to check himself in for treatment at the VA hospital where Jesse worked.
Members of the medical staff who overheard Jesse relating so naturally with another Veteran suggested he become a peer specialist.
I found another purpose. I found a reason to get my head off the bed in the morning.Jesse
“I had no idea what that even was,” Jesse admits. “It’s helping other Veterans. Again, I found another purpose. I found a reason to get my head off the bed in the morning.”
Repurposing his military skills to benefit other Veterans ended up repurposing Jesse’s life and benefiting him. It took him a couple of years to admit he needed help, but when he did, everything changed.
“The VA is great if you take advantage of it,” he says. “If you want therapy, go in and ask for it. There’s a chance. All you have to do is want it.”