‘Facing Stigma’ with Steven Padilla

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“I made some bad choices growing up, and was even homeless and couch surfing for awhile. I felt very disconnected from my family, until my brother came back from the Army. We were partying and I ended up asking him a bunch of questions about the Army, and when he was answering them there was this sense of duty, honor, and something bigger. Living the lifestyle I had was just very selfish and I wasn’t doing anything. I wanted to do something larger and more purposeful as well. I wanted to be more like my twin brother, so I enlisted shortly after.

Our unit was tasked with looking for road side bombs once we got deployed. My platoon’s motto was “Getting blown up so you don’t have to.” There was one specific night that I identified as one of my traumatic moments. We got a call stating there was a bomb at a specific grid point, but when we first drove there to check it out, there was nothing there. We thought that was odd so we went to the Iraqi Police checkpoint and asked if they had heard or seen anything, and they said it was further down the road. Now this happened multiple times until we finally got to a point further down and they finally said they hadn’t heard anything and didn’t know what we were talking about, so we had a feeling something wasn’t right. On the way back, at that original grid point, we hit the bomb that wasn’t there when we first checked. The lead truck got blown up and the guys all had to be medically evacuated out that night. Luckily no one died but my friend Morgan got messed up pretty bad. Even worse, I was supposed to have been in the lead truck, not Morgan. When we got back we had a large chunk of guys get popped for drug and substance abuse. Guys that never had issues were now having issues. When you get back all you have to do is say you’re not suicidal because mental health is such a taboo issue. I started getting seen for PTSD shortly after but I lied about it. I made a mental health appointment and my platoon sergeant was like, “why are you going to mental health,” because mental health is the curse word and can end your career. I told him it was for marriage counseling, but really I was having issues with my PTSD.

When I was suffering from PTSD I had to go through prolonged exposure therapy with the VA, which is a completely different process and very intense. Almost sometimes even debilitating because you have to live certain things over and over again. After going through it though, I understand how important therapy is. Understanding that Headstrong takes the best modalities and the best treatment options to treat veterans, it makes it an easy mission to get behind. It’s even easier for me to pass on to other veterans because it is so important and I don’t want anybody else to have to go through the same struggles I had to. When I transitioned out I had to redefine my identity. I had no more battles to fight, I had no one left to protect, but with Headstrong I found I could still be that warrior and have battles to fight. In the military we come from a culture where we don’t quit fighting, and we fight until we win. My mission is to make sure every veteran I come into contact with continues to fight.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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