‘Facing Stigma’ with Evan R.

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“I grew up hearing stories of the Korean and Vietnam wars from my grandfather. He talked about it all the time, but to be honest, I had known I wanted to be in the military even before he started planting those seeds. I knew I wanted to be a Marine because of their purpose driven culture so I enlisted in the infantry right after high school. We were thrust right into life as a Marine the very first week I got to my duty station. They started training and preparing us to trade places with another unit in Afghanistan. The Taliban had been cleared out but there were lots of pockets of resistance still in the region. We were tasked with holding the area and building up the infrastructure, while continuing to train the Afghan army and establishing a working relationship with the community. On one particular day we were searching a compound of a guy we suspected was aiding the Taliban. As we were heading out, a group of guys shot across the field and opened fire on us. In a matter of seconds we were returning fire until they dispersed and ran off. We waited to make sure the engagement was over and then headed back to base. I took point on the way back and started sweeping for IEDs.There’s a lot of metal signatures on the ground so sometimes you have to guess which one is which and it just happened that I didn’t distinguish the correct sound and ended up stepping on one. I went flying through the air before landing on my back. I looked down and saw my right leg was gone, my left leg was severely damaged, and my right arm was broken in half and behind the left side of my head. I couldn’t move, but I was conscious and remember everything. It was 20 minutes until I was at the combat hospital, but that 20 minutes felt like a lifetime.

They loaded me up on the medivac chopper and I just remember going in and out of consciousness for that whole ride to Landstuhl, Germany. I was there a week before being moved to Bethesda Naval Hospital. I woke up in the US three weeks later and was happy to see I still had my left leg and right arm. I lost my right leg below the knee and then I lost all the muscle from the back of my left leg. I did two and a half months of in-patient and had about 50 surgeries during that time period. I was at ground zero of being a human being, but I just tried to take it one day at a time. Whenever you’re in those terrible states, you just have to take it step by step. The worst thing you can do in a bad situation is get stuck in your own head because you just make it worse. I initially went to counseling because my mom wanted me, but really I was just dealing with it in my own way. I wanted to be independent and to take care of myself so that’s what I worked toward. I had to get dressed with one arm and shower with one arm. I remember falling out of my wheelchair a bunch of times and not being able to get back in it. As hard as it was, it was really gratifying to learn how to become independent again. I’m in school right now and about to finish up my Bachelors in history. I plan on going to law school after that because I figured if I’m not putting my body to the test anymore, I can still put my mind to the test. I’m very proud to have been a Marine but I realize it’s just another chapter. I did it, I survived, and now I’m on to the next.”

To provide mental health treatment to veterans like Evan, please consider donating to the Headstrong Project at http://getheadstrong.org/donate/

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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