‘Facing Stigma’ with Paul Wenzel

“I have a long bloodline of service members in my family so I always felt this sense of duty, but even more so after 9/11 because that’s my generation’s war. I was a 13-year-old when I saw the smoke and I knew immediately from a young age that it was real. The 9/11 experience was real for us because it happened in our backyard so it really hit close to home and impacted us. I was thinking about joining the Army right out of high school, but I gave college a shot and went through ROTC before commissioning as a Lieutenant for the Army in May 2011. While I was with security forces unit, I deployed once to Afghanistan for seven months. I was the team officer in charge of closing forward operating bases during the big draw down in 2014. I was based out of Kandahar airfield, but we went all over the country to close bases. The thing about closing a base is that you’re more exposed with less troops around. We were always on alert 24/7, and even when you’re not getting hit with direct fire, you’re dealing with the Afghan Army. This was a time when there were a lot of blue on green attacks. I was there when it was calming down, but you still had to keep your head on swivel. Luckily I didn’t get hurt or injured like some of my friends did. Once I got back I was fine for the first couple years until one day I wasn’t.

I was a cop in Westchester, NY when one day everything hit. I was by myself out on a street dealing with a guy that gave me this uneasy feeling with the way he was acting, and out of nowhere, I had a panic attack with a ton of anxiety. Prior to that day, I had compartmentalized everything inside and it wasn’t until I broke down that I realized I needed help. I started abusing alcohol to hide everything and went into this downward spiral until I had to leave the department. I heard about Headstrong through Joe Quinn and thank God for that push because I was really in the worst place I’d ever been. I haven’t had any drinks in ten months. I did EMDR with my previous therapist, Holly, and it’s really helped me to get back on track. I went from being so sheltered and introverted to finding my way again and spreading the word to other veterans who could benefit form Headstrong’s services. I’m now working for the Undersecretary of Health in the Chief of Staff’s office. I work on the Congressional and Legislative Affairs team. I see all the programs that are getting pushed to the Secretary, whether it’s for suicide prevention, or any new program that’s across the Veteran’s Health Administration. Seeing where I’m at now in comparison to where I was and it’s not lost on me that I wouldn’t be here without the help of Headstrong — and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

Healing the hidden wounds of war