Last month we honored our veterans. But long after the celebrations end, the fight for healing continues.
WGN’s Medical Watch team first met marine David Meza when he was seeking treatment for his debilitating anxiety and PTSD. He opened up to us about his struggles, and his honesty was so captivating, there was an opportunity to learn more.
“As a young 18-year-old kid, you’re handed this rifle, you think you’re going go do all this cool stuff. And then when you get there, it is cool, but then you realize there’s people involved,” Meza said. “It’s not just this video game you have in your head, it’s real. I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand or don’t realize until they get there.”
In August, Meza had flown from the West Coast to Chicago to undergo a medical procedure. He received an injection in a bundle of nerves in the neck known to help some with severe anxiety associated with PTSD.
At the time he said he was nervous.
“But hopeful that this will help me in the end,” he said. “If there’s anything that comes from this, I want my anxiety to be gone. When I got out, I told myself. ‘I don’t have PTSD. I’m fine. I don’t need to go to therapy. I don’t need any of that stuff. That’s what people who are weak do.’ … (There is a) lot of anger, lot of bubbling, a lot of not being able to control. It gets to the point where I punch walls. I’ve broken doors. My anxiety, my anger, my paranoia doesn’t allow my brain to rest and just chill.”
Meza served from 2005 to 2009 in the Second battalion, 7th Marines.
“It started off rough at first,” he said. “We had a lot of explosions, people being hurt, seeing a kid be hurt. It gets to the point where it’s overwhelming to the senses. iIt makes you numb. It’s what I signed up for but it’s a lot deeper than that. It’s lives and children and families and brothers and mothers. And you can see that when you talk to them.”
In August he said he was at a low point.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I get those thoughts everyday about suicide … like I’d be better off not here. And the only thing that keeps me around, I’m going to be honest, is my son.”
Three months after his procedure, WGN visited Meza at home in California.
“I woke up, and it was like literally a light switch had been flipped,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Huh that’s weird. That’s kind of different. That’s kind of nice.’ The anxiety that I used to have is pretty much gone. I’m able to be calm about things and not spin and not go out of control. I’m going to therapy once a week. … Not a lot of guys like to talk about it, and it’s hard, but I don’t ever think of us as a victim. We just have problems that we need to deal with from fighting a war and being over there in a country that’s not ours and seeing the things that we didn’t grow up seeing.”
Meza said he is moving forward.
“Just try to live my best life,” he said. “Try to keep going to therapy, work on myself. I started going to church again. I’m going with my mom and my son and it’s been kind of nice. Because of the depression I would say those thoughts come and go in and out of your head about not wanting to be here. But then they just quickly come and quickly go because I do have my son. I do have a reason to live. I do have a reason to be around.”
Meza said he shared his story with the hope it may help fellow veterans who may be struggling.
Mike D'Angelo WGN photojournalist, editor contributed to this report.
Here are some additional resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Stellate Ganglion Block Procedure, go to: https://eraseptsdnow.org/
Resources for Veterans/Service Members, Families and Caregivers
For immediate crisis situations:
- For suicide ideation and crisis- go to closest VA (or other) hospital emergency room- is critical to be honest and clear about severity of symptoms, especially for thoughts of suicide. Locator for VA Treatment centers: https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/PTSD.asp or Visit VA.gov to find the closest hospital
- VA “National Veteran Crisis Line” for crisis support at: 800-273-8255 or text : 838255 More resources can be found at: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/GetHelp/ResourceLocator.aspx. This site offers information on the Suicide Prevention Coordinator (SPC) for each state. Contact them directly and get more information about state resources.
For immediate assistance, call 911 or local Police Department for emergency response
Mental health referrals for Veterans
- VA PTSD Programs by state searched by location or at https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/PTSD.asp
- Find VA “Vet Centers” for outpatient care and counseling- which are confidential and are not included in veteran’s service record book. Visit https://www.vetcenter.va.gov/ for a state by state locator
- Cohen Veterans Network - a privately funded network of clinics offering free or low-cost time-limited clinical treatment to Veterans and their families - find a CVN clinic: https://www.cohenveteransnetwork.org/clinics/
- Wounded Warrior Project - WWP Resource Center can assist you with information regarding WWP programs and services to meet your specific needs. Email the WWP Resource Center at email@example.com or call 888.WWP.ALUM (888.997.2586).
- Home Base (Boston, MA) - Funded by Wounded Warrior Project as part of WWP’s Warrior Care Network, offering clinical care, fitness and mind-body wellness programs for Service Members, Veterans and Families http://homebase.org/
- Emory Healthcare Veterans Program(Atlanta, GA) - Funded by Wounded Warrior Project as part of WWP’s Warrior Care Network - treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), anxiety, and depression related to past military service is offered free to qualified post-9/11 military servicemembers and veterans https://www.emoryhealthcare.org/centers-programs/veterans-program/index.html
- Rush Center for Veterans and Their Families (Chicago, IL) - Funded by Wounded Warrior Project as part of WWP’s Warrior Care Network, “The Road Home Program” offers confidential support, counseling and veterans' health services for PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and military sexual trauma (MST), as well as help to to veterans’ families, including counseling for parents, spouses and children. https://www.rush.edu/services/veterans-center
- UCLA Operation Mend (Los Angeles, CA) - Funded by Wounded Warrior Project as part of WWP’s Warrior Care Network, “Operation Mend” provides advanced surgical and medical treatment, as well as comprehensive psychological-health support for post-9/11-era service members, veterans and their families at no cost. http://operationmend.ucla.edu/about
- Give an Hour – a network of volunteer counselors, therapists, and other licensed professionals. They provide free mental health counseling to combat Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their loved ones. Website: www.giveanhour.org; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Headstrong Project - provides post-9/11 military veterans with free mental health care. http://getheadstrong.org/get-help/
- Sparta Project conducts retreats in AZ, CA, and MN. Providers use The Sparta methodology that we deliver to a small group during our 5-day retreat that include all meals, lodging, and materials. Treatment of: PTS(D), Moral Injury, Shame, Guilt, Spiritual Injury and the underlying causes of self-medication and self-destructive behaviors. Since the dawn of civilization, warriors have always had ritual and culture to detoxify from war. Sparta provides a spiritual approach in the absence of such rituals.
- Magnus Veterans Foundation (In Dayton, Minnesota – expected ground-breaking is Spring 2020). Magnus Veterans Foundation will offer a comprehensive, holistic approach for Minnesota-based veterans that includes physical, psychological, social and spiritual wellness services.
Peer Support Resources
- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offers comprehensive, best-practice postvention support services for suicide loss survivors, including the 24/7 Helpline (1-800-959-TAPS), virtual groups and chats for survivors, and on-the-ground events and gatherings.
- Vets4Warriors is a non-profit, founded by and run by veterans, dedicated to military mental health support and suicide prevention at http://www.vets4warriors.com/ or 855-838-8255 for 24/7 helpline for peer support and resources
- BE THERE - DOD support, outreach and call center: https://www.betherepeersupport.org Call 844-357-PEER (7337) and TEXT to: 480-360-6188
- DSTRESS - The Marine Corps DSTRESS Line provides a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anonymous phone and chat and referral service using a ‘Marine-to-Marine’ approach.
Community-based organizations that help reunite veterans with “Tribe”
- TAPS good grief camp mentor program: Join the tribe within TAPS by serving as a good grief camp mentor to a child who has lost a military family member. Veterans change the lives of surviving military children by helping them honor their loved ones, learn coping skills, and find support systems. https://www.taps.org/militarymentor
- Team Red, White and Blue: Team RWB connects Veterans to their community through physical and social activity. Engaging members in meaningful team and community-based experiences renews self-identity and purpose in life. https://www.teamrwb.org/
- The Mission Continues - The Mission Continues empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact. Veterans are deployed on new missions in their communities, so that their actions will inspire future generations to come. https://missioncontinues.org/
- Team Rubicon - Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. Through continued service, Team Rubicon helps veterans re-discover purpose, community, and identity. https://teamrubiconusa.org/
- Wounded Warrior Project - WWP’s Alumni program helps veterans reform relationships by providing opportunities to connect with one another, programs, and their communities. Wounded Warrior Project also hosts family and spouse-focused events. https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
- Real Warriors helps with building resilience, facilitating recovery and supporting reintegration of returning service members, veterans and their families. https://www.realwarriors.net/
- The Bush Institute: Supports post-9/11 veterans and their families in making successful transitions to civilian life with the focus on gaining meaningful employment and overcoming the invisible wounds of war. http://www.bushcenter.org/explore-our-work/fostering-policy/veteran-transition.html
- The Veteran Artist Program - Fosters, encourages and promotes Veteran artists http://veteranartistprogram.org/
- VA National Center for PTSD with resources to help the veteran and the family https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/index.asp
- VA Coaching Into Care program to help families get their veteran into care https://www.mirecc.va.gov/coaching/ or call 888-823-7458
- “Defense Suicide Prevention Office” (DSPO) has valuable resources and tools, including their “Be There” campaign for peer based support, and external links to Suicide Prevention Programs within all service branches at http://www.dspo.mil/ or call 844-357-PEER (7337) and Text 480-360-6188
- For suicide attempt survivors: http://www.suicidology.org/suicide-survivors/suicide-attempt-survivors
- And https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-made-attempt/
Support for Caregivers of injured, ill, or wounded Veterans
Military Veteran Care Giver Network (MVCN) offers peer-based support and services to connect those providing care to service members and veterans living with wounds, illnesses and/or injuries. https://milvetcaregivernetwork.org/ or call 800-959-8277
List provided by Shauna Springer, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist