‘Facing Stigma’ with Jason H.

“I was born and mostly raised in Fort Collins, Colorado. My dad was in the Army for a bit during Desert Storm and then joined the National Guard where he still is to this day. My uncle has been in the military since 9/11 and after seeing them both serve, I knew I wanted to join as well. I watched videos of the Battle of Fallujah online and after seeing everything the Marines went through and how valiantly they fought, I knew I wanted to be a Marine. I joined the Marines as infantry and went through boot camp before being sent to infantry school. After graduating both within six months I arrived at my first duty station, only to get deployed to Afghanistan shortly after in 2010. As soon as we arrived, it was very kinetic and we were engaged right out of the gate. There were multiple IED incidents in those first few weeks and my company sustained the first KIA (Killed In Action). After a month in, we were tasked with clearing a building that potentially had IED makers in it. We went through the back of the compound and our dog found five IEDs in a small vicinity. We decided to split up into teams of two. My team went through the front part of the compound but I stopped everyone after seeing some wire shimmer off the sunlight. After getting everyone out of the building, we went over to check the sheds around the building. While we were exiting the sheds, I saw a head poke out of a nearby cornfield and as I turn to say “move,” one of the secondary IEDs was triggered. When the IED detonated, the building actually collapsed on top of me. I was missing three limbs right off the bat and my forearm on my remaining arm was wide open. As they were unburying my teammate and I, the rest of my unit started taking machine gunfire as we were being evacuated.

I blacked out while my corpsman worked on me and was eventually sent to Bethesda, Maryland. I was in a medically induced coma up to that point, but even after waking up, I was in and out of consciousness with all of the Ketamine. I was in ICU at Bethesda until January 2011 because I kept getting pneumonia and had other medical complications. While I was in ICU, my old platoon sergeant came by and let me know that there were over 78 IEDs inside the compound we were sweeping. After we got hit, there were a string of KIAs and injuries that followed in Fallujah from October to December. It ended up being one of the bloodiest battles for the Marine Corps. I was eventually discharged from Walter Reed Hospital and sent to San Diego. I was going to PT and prosthetics appointments, but really learning how to survive on my own for the most part. I retired from the military in September 2013 and eventually became an independent financial advisor. I think having this career really helped me find a purpose again post military. I briefly went through a dark time in 2016 after my friend died by suicide, but I had my kids two months later and just focused on things that were going well rather than dwelling on the bad. I try to be productive by going to the gym and doing mountain sports, but hunting with some of my combat injured friends helps bring back that camaraderie I was missing. I’ve been good about staying goal oriented and busy and not letting what’s going on around me impact what I want out of life. One of my big goals is to get out of the wheelchair and be on my legs for 90% of the day so that I’m not relying on the chair. I have a vision and goals for my life and that commitment helps me work through any problems that come my way.”

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

Healing the hidden wounds of war