Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Too Legit to Quit

Too Legit to Quit
By Jamie Turner

In January of this year, Veteran's Refuge Network started as a crazy idea. Today, we are excited to announce that after only ONE paperwork submission and FOUR short months, the IRS has approved our 501c(3) status and we are officially a non-profit! The short approval time took us off guard, we'd heard stories of multiple attempts, months of waiting, and repeated frustrations. For our approval to only take four months is an awesome surprise, and to say we're excited is an understatement. 

We just wanted to take a minute express our gratitude to everyone for sharing our posts, helping us raise awareness for PTSD and the 22 veterans that commit suicide each day, and continuing to support us each and every day. Changing the statistic is not something the three of us can do alone, we fully recognize it's going to take a network of people willing to reach out a hand to someone who may be struggling. And, to those of you who have jumped right in to join us in this fight, we cannot say thank you enough. 

Now that we're too legit to quit, we know the real work begins as we work toward making our idea of a veteran treatment center a reality. 

Yes, it's going to take a lot of work. 
Yes, it's going to be discouraging at times. 
Yes, it's worth the fight. 

We feel so blessed, humbled, and excited for what the future holds. Please continue to partner with us as we make progress, reach out to those you know may be going through a rough time, and be the one to make a difference for someone today.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I Am The One

I Am The One
By Andrew Turner

On June 30th, 2014, we gathered together; we stood in awe, in horror, in silence as we looked at 660 crosses in a field representing the incredible loss of veteran suicide in a single month.  We saw the statistic in a new light.  We shared the tragedy with our community and tried to help people understand the epidemic that our veteran population is facing.  We also challenged each other to make a change.  We talked about the impact saving one life could have, the ripple it would create, and the tidal wave that would come with reducing 22 veteran suicides a day to 21 a day.  But most importantly we talked about where the change will come from and who is responsible for creating that change.  I am the one responsible for creating the change.  You are the one responsible for creating the change. 

With September being National Suicide Prevention Month, we have another opportunity to bring attention and awareness to the 22 veteran suicides daily and continue a discussion on what we can do to help change that number.  This month we will continue to bring you information on ways to fight PTSD and other mental health issues impacting veterans.  We’ll list resources that veterans can use to get the help they need in order to be healthy.  And, we’ll share our own stories of how we are the ones making a difference for veterans, and we’ll ask you to share with us how you are the one making a difference for those around you.

We want you to think about how you would finish the statement, “I am the one…”, and share your answer with us.  Think about it in terms of veteran suicide prevention.  Maybe you are the one who has the Veteran Crisis Line phone number stored in your phone so it’s there when you need it, or when your friend needs it.  Maybe you are the one who calls and writes your representative to encourage them to support legislation that increases mental health services for veterans.  Maybe you are the one who lost a battle buddy, and now you make a conscious effort to call and text your surviving friends to make sure they are doing ok, and to let them know you have their back if they need it.  Or, maybe you are the one who has struggled with thoughts of suicide, but has fought back from the brink. We all have a story to tell.

I know how I finish the statement.  Jamie and Laura both know how they finish it.  And starting September 1st 2014, we’ll be sharing ours with you and hoping you do the same with us. 

Here’s how you can participate: We’re going to share short video clips of us finishing the statement while holding a sign that reads, “I am the one…” Simply hold up your sign, share your statement, and then send us the link. We’ll post one each day during the month of September. If you’re still not sure you understand what we’re looking for, just follow our lead.  Andrew, Jamie, and Laura will have the first three days of the month covered.

This is just one way we can continue to take ownership of the problem and embrace our responsibility for being the change we wish to see.  I challenge you to accept the responsibility of being the change.  I challenge you to be the one that helps reduce the 22 a day.  I challenge you to find your ending to the statement, “I am the one…”, and share it with us. 

#BeTheOne  #IAmTheOne #22aDay  #21>22

Thursday, July 10, 2014


by Andrew Turner

Just over a month ago we began an awareness campaign to show the 22 lives that are lost to suicide each day in our veteran community.  Every day the display grew.  Every day the impact grew.  And on June 30th, we gathered as a community to witness the 660 crosses in the ground, show respect for the lives they represented, and discuss how we could make a change to this tragic statistic.  Two days ago we finally took the project down and now it’s difficult to put into words what the last month has meant to us, being there every day, pounding 22 crosses into the ground every day.  There is a definite sense of pride for what we accomplished, for the way we were able to share our vision with so many others, and for the way our community responded with support and interest.  There is also a feeling of sadness seeing the empty field after spending so much time there.  We came to appreciate our time among the crosses and despite the tragedy it represented, we found a calmness and peace there that we are now missing.  Leaving town for the 4th of July weekend, Jamie commented that it would be the first day in over a month that we had not been there.  I missed it that first day.  It seemed that we had put so much of ourselves into that project that not being there was strange.  But I’m also glad it’s over.

I’m glad I don’t have to put another 22 crosses into the ground today.  I’m glad our project is complete, but it’s only complete because of the limit we placed on it.  We could have been back on July 1st with another 22 crosses.  And we could have been back July 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th…and as many other days as we wanted, as long as this tragedy continues.  So the display serves its purpose of letting people know about this issue.  It allows people to put a visual to a statistic.  But unless it inspires us to make a change, then what purpose does it serve?  The major theme that continued to be discussed at the display was the ripple effect that each suicide has.  It was the ripple effect of three that brought us all together on June 30th, over 130 people, most who didn't know each other, yet were touched by the ripples of Brian, Ben, and Zack’s deaths. 

We’re going to do this project again.  The response it received was greater than we could have imagined and there’s no telling the impact it can have as we share it in other communities.  The more people it touches, the more opportunity we have to draw them to our cause and encourage them to stand with us to support these struggling veterans.  My hope is that when we do this again (and soon), that we don’t have to put 22 crosses in every day.  That instead we can put in 21 crosses, or 20 crosses, or one day have no need for a single cross at all.  But that change will only come because of the effort we are willing to put in to bring it about. We cannot simply look at all those crosses and hope that the VA is going to come to our rescue, or some new government program will be what makes a difference.  Too many of our brothers and sisters are falling through the cracks and it’s happening every single day.  If we truly want to see a change, we need to take responsibility for that change.  If we truly think these lives are worth saving, we need to take responsibility for that change.  Change will come because we are willing to put in the effort to create it. 

So what does that look like?  How does, “What can I do to help?” turn into, “This is what I am doing to help…”?  You don’t need to have all the answers to a veteran’s problems to help them.  You just need to let them know that you care enough to listen to them when they need to talk.  You just need to let them know that you care enough to call them, or shoot them a text, or reach out to them on Facebook to see how they are doing and let them know you are thinking about them.  You just need to be there for them when they are struggling.  None of us can force a veteran to reach out for help with PTSD or other mental health issues.  But we can be there to support them when they are ready.  We can make sure we are a positive part of their life that lifts them up when they are down.  None of that is difficult or requires much of us.  Yet it can make a real impact on someone looking for a reason to continue living.  Each of us can be the one who makes a change and saves a life.  Each of us can be the one who reaches out a hand to those who are slipping through the cracks.  Together we can make a change in the statistic that says 22 veterans will commit suicide tomorrow.  But it won’t happen by accident.  It will happen because people like you and I are willing to stand in the gap and be the change.  So what have you done to make a difference for somebody today?  What are you willing to do to make a difference for somebody tomorrow?  How far are you willing to go to be the one who changes 22 a day to 21?

Monday, June 2, 2014

660 White Crosses

660 White Crosses
By Jamie Turner

            A few years ago, one of my favorite college professors showed us a documentary called “Paper Clips”, about a group of middle school kids in Tennessee who were learning about the Holocaust and the 6 million lives that were lost during that time. Hearing the number 6 million was one thing, but the students were having difficulty grasping the enormity of that number and wanted to know what it looked like. They embarked on a project where they set out to collect 6 million paper clips in order to visualize just how many people that actually was. As news of their project got out, paper clips began arriving from all over the world. To date, the school has received over 30 million paper clips, numerous mementos from Holocaust survivors and their families, and even an actual German rail car that had been used to transport people to the concentration camps. Years later, this movie periodically comes to my mind, as it did this past week once again.

            Last weekend Veteran’s Refuge had a full schedule of volunteering, manual labor, a 5k race, a business plan to write, a competition to enter, budgets to plan, and more. In the busyness of the weekend, it was easy to simply work through Memorial Day as just a day to get things done; conscious of what it meant, but not really fully grasping the solemnity of the day. As we sat here on the couch, me working on one project, Andrew typing away at another, both of our phones received a text message. What I read changed my day, it changed my week, and it changed my month.
            The message was from the father of our friend Zack, who lost his battle with PTSD this past January. The attached photo showed Zack’s dad with his arm lovingly surrounding a white headstone, and a message that simply said, “One of the bravest most honorable people I've ever known. My hero, my son. I miss you Zboy! Even now, I can’t read it or think of his words without tearing up. This is what Memorial Day is all about. Remembering those we’ve lost in the heat of battle, and those we’ve lost since they’ve come home, after fighting PTSD for years.
            The text and the beautiful words stayed with me the rest of the afternoon. An idea was forming in my brain, but I kept telling myself it was too crazy, and there wasn't enough time to plan it out. I kept thinking of the statistic of 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. 22. How many is 22, really? We easily spend $22 on take-out and don’t even bat an eye. What does 22 look like? I thought of Paper Clips, and what did 6 million look like? And, I thought of June. I’ve been planning out our social media campaign, and have had on my calendar for weeks that June is PTSD awareness month. There’s 30 days in June. There’s 22 veteran suicides a day. What does that look like? What does 660 look like?
            By 5:00pm, I still hadn’t said anything to Andrew. We were driving home from our favorite Mexican restaurant when I finally decided to just test the waters and see what he thought. I began with, “So, I’ve been thinking about something crazyyyyy…” Gotta love my husband, he didn’t even bat an eye. Then, I told him my idea. I said I wanted to show what 22 a day looked like, every day during the month of June. I wasn’t sure how it could be done, or if it could even be accomplished in such a short time frame. Should it be flags? Should it be boots? How could we get it done? My brain was spinning a million miles an hour. Andrew listened to my jumble of thoughts, was immediately on board, and drove the truck straight to Home Depot. One quick phone call to Laura, and she signed on to the crazy train too.

            So, for the past week, Andrew, Laura, and I along with family and friends have been working feverishly to paint, cut, and assemble 660 white crosses for our art project. We’ve called councilmen, city managers, and people who might know a guy, in order to locate a piece of visible property we could use for the month of June. And, starting on Monday, June 2nd, our goal is to display 22 white crosses each day, in order to visually show our country’s loss. We have one week’s worth fully assembled in our basement, ready to go. It’s so many. And it’s only a quarter of how many we actually need. I hate that we need even one.
            As we’re working toward building our Veteran’s Refuge, we’re realizing more and more that it’s not just me, Andrew, and Laura. Veteran’s Refuge is all of us together. One of you might be able to help a veteran who is struggling; just by being there for them, sending a text, or connecting them with someone who can help. We recognize we cannot do it alone; in order to succeed, it’s got to be about building a community of support, a network of all of us together, so if we can’t reach one, someone else will be there who can.

            So, this is our big plan. We invite you to come out and see the crosses each day, at 6400 Textile Rd., in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We plan to invite everyone on June 30th for when we put in the last 22 of the month. Come and see what 660 looks like. One changed me. Three were the catalyst for the forming of Veteran’s Refuge. I guarantee 660 will change your life. This is not about a political statement, it’s not about despair and negativity, and in fact it’s the opposite. It’s about bringing awareness and hope, strength and encouragement. It’s about removing the stigma and showing that losing even one is one too many. On June 30th, we’ll look out on a field of 660 white crosses and know that by doing this, by putting ourselves out there publicly to succeed or fail, we’re making a difference. If we can reach just one, then it’s so worth the risk. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stories Series Episode #4: The Greatest Honor

Meghan Stewart
20, May 2014

As a teenager, I felt ridiculed, judged even, when I told people my parents were in the military. After September 11, 2001; people looked to me for advice, for support, for help. My parents met while stationed at Fort Monmouth, NJ. After returning home from Germany, after I was born, my dad switched from soldier to stay-at-home father while mom went back into the service. Two years and another kid later, they switched roles permanently.

We moved from state to state, post to post, concrete walled house to concrete walled house. This went on until we moved to Michigan when my dad made the move from Active Duty Army, to Michigan National Guard recruiter. In Michigan, there is not a big military presence. September 11, 2001; I remember being herded into a dark room with fifty other 8th graders. Teachers were quiet, trying desperately to hide the fear, the concern they felt while we all watched the news. What always stands out to me about that day was my peers’ reactions to what was going on. I didn’t really know what the Twin Towers were, or why it was so important that they were targeted, but I knew it was significant. Every one of my fellow students knew something was wrong and I was the one they asked about it. “What’s going on, Meghan?” They knew my dad was military. And for some reason, I was the new expert about terrorism for the 8th grade class of Linden Middle School.  By 10am, my mom called my sister and I out of school and brought us home. The three of us waited impatiently for word from my father. We knew the dormant lifestyle we had become accustomed to was endangered now. It wasn’t until 2004 that the other shoe dropped and my dad was deployed to Iraq.

I used to hate the military. Both parents deployed to war, I felt like my family was cursed. It wasn’t until my dad returned and I met the men that served side by side with him for 14 months. I realized then, I am blessed. I was terrified that I would lose a family member and ended up gaining sixty more. Those men and their families became my family. That’s what happens in the military. If you are serving, the men or women who stand side by side with you, they become your blood, closer ties and relationships than with your actual blood relatives. I was lucky to get my dad back. Other families were not. Ten years after their deployment, the men of my dad’s platoon still have stronger bonds than anything you could imagine. They’ve all gone their separate ways. Some out of the military, some spread out to new units. But one thing will always keep them in contact. Their service together. The 14 months they spent together will ensure that our families will always be one. The lesson I’ve learned above all else: the military is a blessing. It may be hard to see at first, but it truly is the greatest honor, for the person in the military and their families. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stories Series Episode #3: A Dog Named Lewis

Brandon Turnbull
10, April 2014

We are honored to share the story of Brandon Turnbull and Rex, a military dog he came in contact with during his deployment, Brandon's difficulties readjusting after returning home, and how a dog named Lewis is the reason he's alive today. Thank you, Brandon, for sharing your story with us. 

We only had Rex with us for one mission, we were pulling QRF (quick relief force) in the Balad Ruiz area just north of Baqubah in the Diyala providence during the elections. Our tour was from 2009-2010 with Attack Company 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment 3rd Stryker Brigade 2nd ID, the Army's first Stryker Brigade. 

I honestly don't have some amazing story where Rex physically saved my life, but I can tell you because of his handler and that dog, they were inevitably the reason I got my own dog upon returning home from Iraq. 

We lost two of our stellar soldiers from our company one night in early September and that memory hurt me for a long time. I was home for almost 9 months, and lost everything because lack of able to pay bills. I got into alcohol and became addicted to prescribed drugs like Xanax to cope with the emotional pain, it was mind numbing. I finally started to lose a grip on reality and contemplated suicide multiple times. It almost became a daily thought. 

That's when a good close friend of mine went and picked my dog Lewis up for me for my 25th birthday (he's adopted but don't tell him). He's honestly the best thing that ever happened to me. He's not just my best friend but he's my son. He kept me fighting, he never gave up on me, I never let him down, he always supports me no matter what I'm going through in life, he always has my back and he will always love me. 

My dog is the reason I'm alive today. He not a registered service dog but he's the answer to my PTSD and everyone sees that, he goes everywhere with me and never leaves my side. So I guess really the impact that Rex left me ended up saving my life in the long run. They say everything happens for a reason, I'm just glad I got to meet Rex because it resulted in me finding my soulmate and my best friend and if I didn't have that I don't know where I'd be, if even alive today.

I joined in 2007 as a 19 Kilo tanker. I was the platoon guide through our basic training/AIT at Fort Knox. After basic I got sent to the army’s first Stryker brigade under Attack company 5th Battalion 20th Infantry regiment 2nd Infantry Division. I was a team leader from the time I was a PFC. I received a DUI in Washington State for a .09 in a .08 legal state limit, about a month before our deployment. I plead guilty to deploy with my soldiers and delay my sentence until I returned.

September 2009 came around we’re a couple months into our deployment. We were on QRF (quick reaction force) on FOB Warhorse in Iraq when we get mortared. I was the senior gunner in our LT’s vehicle. We roll outside the wire, and we lost communications in the palm groves so they called out our secondary QRF. One of their vehicles drove off the side of a blown up bridge and KIA two of our soldiers. Some had to pull security while others had to rescue the other soldiers from the vehicle. 

I remember hearing their call signs over the radio and how silent everything instantly was. Even down on the ground it seemed like the world paused while we were already mourning inside. I couldn't even bring myself to so see them honorably sent off the base in black hawk home to their families. I sat in my room and cried night after night for months, which eventually turned to years. 

Upon returning home from Iraq as Sgt Turnbull I was generally discharged for my DUI from prior to my deployment. I returned home in April 2011 a broken changed man and severely depressed. I instantly went on a 4 month drinking binge where I drank every single day and popped a 1000 MG Vicodin or a 2 MG Xanax for up to nine months. Eventually I lost all will and motivation to live because I was so depressed. I always blamed myself and wished it was me instead of them. It even got to the point where I would dry fire my glock .45 against my temple just to see what it would feel like to be free of the world. 

That’s when a friend of mine got me my dog Lewis, a puppy mill rescue. He completely changed my life. Since Lewis, I have stopped drinking and consuming drugs. I got offered a job in Columbus, Georgia to be a laborer for a road construction company out of Detroit to do work on Fort Benning. I ended up returning back to Detroit and became apart of the Michigan Laborers union. I’ve spent over 2 years here with Lewis putting in new runways at the Metro Airport. Detroit is a beautiful and amazing city. Lewis has been here with me every step of the way. 

He’s been like a son to me or a companion, he’s never left my side, and as single male I’m happy living out here with Lewis knowing we are making it together surviving and no matter what we’ve been through nothing can stop us from accomplishing goals in life. He saved my life. I realized my dog had a soul and as awkward as it sounds it matches mine, it’s like we were meant to be together. Everything happens for a reason and people can change, life is beautiful.

This is my story, I hope its ok.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stories Series Episode #2: What Haunts Me

CJ Heim
1 April, 2014

It was June 4, 2005 when I made a decision that has haunted me for years.  As usual my squad was on site at Al-Nasir Police Station on Route Bravo.  Route Bravo was a divided road with two lanes of traffic on each side of the concrete divider.  Nasir was a dangerous station as it was deep in the city and was the lowest building around.  However, the real danger at Nasir was getting in and out of the station.  The parking area was completely enclosed and could only be accessed by a sliding door in the front right of the station.  The parking area had covered areas to the left and rear and was full of Iraqi Police vehicles.  The only way to get the armored trucks inside the parking area was to stop traffic on Route Bravo and back the vehicles in the station.  This street was always packed with cars and people as it was an access point to the Sadr City Market. 
By June, I had done this a thousand times and became comfortable with the danger level.  As always, my vehicle was the lead vehicle.  I would have my driver and gunner mount up in the vehicle while I would walk out in the middle of traffic to halt the flow.  Most of the time I would not even need to raise my weapon to stop the vehicles. On this day in June that was a different story.  The first two lanes of traffic stopped immediately so I continued across the concrete divider and into the other two lanes.  As I looked to the right, traffic began to stop except for one vehicle.  I raised my hand and shouted “Awgalf”, the Arabic word for stop.  The vehicle kept coming.  I raised my weapon and again shouted “Awgalf” but still the vehicle kept coming.  I switched my selector level from safe to semi and heard the metallic click.  I can still feel my heart beating out of my chest as I slide my finger over the trigger.  The vehicle kept coming.

The seconds that passed seemed like hours.  I aimed at the driver’s windshield and gently pulled the trigger to the rear.  I don’t remember hearing the weapon fire.  The only thing I remember is the metallic click the weapon made when I released the trigger.  Before I even looked down the barrel of my weapon at what had just occurred my mind caught up with my body.  Something felt off about what had happened.  I knew subconsciously that my mind made a decision my body could not.  It was as if my body was in the fog of war and only knew how to react.  At the same time my mind was clear and was still able to act upon the morals buried deep inside me.  There was something very different about this incident, I just didn’t yet know what I would soon find out.  I looked at the vehicle down the barrel of my weapon and it had veered off onto the sidewalk stopping in the middle of pedestrian traffic.  By this time my squad leader was standing next to me and we moved out with a fire team to do damage control as the crowd flocked around the vehicle.  I was the first to see what had happened.  The driver of the vehicle was a small boy.  I didn’t have to wait for the interrupter to tell me what had happened as I could already see.  The boy could not reach the brake pedal and that is why he could not have stopped.  My round was off target as it was a child and not an adult driving the vehicle. 
This event still gets to me, if it wasn’t a boy in the truck but a man with a truck full of explosives and I didn’t take the shot, me and my men would be dead.  If it was a six year old boy who couldn’t reach the brake pedal and I did take the shot, I just killed an innocent young boy.  I cannot answer why my shot was off.  I also cannot justify why I waited so long to pull the trigger.  I should have had enough time to fire a shot into the grill before the windshield but I hesitated.  This hesitation could have caused me my life or the men in my squad their life.  I still constantly think about it.  There are other days that haunt me in my down time and in my sleep but I will not subject you to all of my horrors.

           In my years since deployment I have struggled with how to handle some of the things that haunted me. I wanted to share what has worked for me in the hopes that someone else would read this and maybe it could work for them. The method I used was writing out the scenario that haunted me including every detail. I would right the scenario much like a movie script as capturing every detail was not an issue for me. As I closed my eyes the movie began and I could remember it like it was yesterday. This is not easy to do and I understand that but once you get through it the healing process can begin. Once you have written your story do some relaxation technique. I have an excellent 15 minute CD that relaxes my entire body and mind. The next part is the hard part and for me I used someone I trusted to help me. I would place a large rubber band on my wrist. Then I would read the story aloud to the other person in the room. The other person’s job was to watch my reaction and listen to the tone of voice. Once it started to become where I was getting aroused the other person would snap the rubber band on my hand. This immediately stopped my thoughts of the story. However, I would have to do the relaxation exercise to bring me back to reality. After the first few times I was able to practice this on my own. This was a long process but it has allowed me to control my thoughts instead of the thoughts controlling me. I will never be able to forget my experiences but I can put them in the closet and close the door. I chose when the door opens now. I will admit at times the door surprises me but I used some of the tools I have learned to put it back into the closet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stories Series Episode #1: At War With Myself.

Andrew Turner
25 March, 2014

I came home from Iraq and put my medic aid bag in a closet.  It stayed there, practically untouched for the next eight years.  Last weekend I got it out and opened it up.  Everything was still right where I left it.  Even after all those years I could have grabbed anything I needed without much thought, including the bags of IV fluid that expired back in 2006.  It gave me goosebumps.  I didn't know if I felt good or bad.  I just felt weird.  I messaged my roommate from Iraq and let him know.  He told me he had left his packed until about a year ago.  It was harder to unpack it than he thought it would be, he said.  I don't think I can unpack mine yet.  I just found out how not ready I really am.

Every Friday I sat in an informal “Lesson’s Learned” class at the Battalion Aid Station.  A doctor from the base hospital would come talk about the injuries they were seeing, the latest treatments that were working, and the treatments that weren’t.  He told us once of a medic that reacted just as he was trained, and saved a life that otherwise could easily have been lost.  Eight or nine months into our deployment he asked us to raise our hands if we had treated an American soldier outside the wire.  I looked around the room and everyone, all 15+ medics, had a hand raised.  All except me.

I was the one guy in the group that had managed to escape any real danger or serious incident.  Even though I was the medic out on mission when our unit was hit with the first IED, everyone other than the gunner was fine.  He took a small ball bearing in his upper arm and barely even noticed.  He didn’t require any attention from me that merited us hanging out at the site.  Instead we just got out of the area and let the medics back on base double check him.  He was back on the road a day or two later.  The rest of my time in Iraq was smooth sailing for me, relatively speaking.  My roommate on the other hand treated two soldiers who died as a result of small arms fire.  My section sergeant treated two soldiers that had to be medevac’d out of the country after a suicide car bomb exploded into their convoy.  Every other medic had been on ground for serious injury or death within our battalion.  Any person in their right mind would consider me the lucky one in the group, but  I didn’t feel that way.  Instead, as I realized every other person had a hand raised, I sunk back in my seat, embarrassed, hoping nobody would notice.  I felt like a fraud.

Nearly ten years later it’s hard to shake the feeling I got that day.  It almost makes me sick to think back on it.  I realize what being embarrassed that day means.  It means that for me to validate my part in the war, I needed to be on ground for the death or serious injury of a fellow soldier.  I don’t really have words to express how fucked up that feels in my head.  Did I really just admit that I needed, or worse yet wanted, one of my guys to go down so I could play my medic role and proudly raise my hand with the rest of the medics??  Go ahead and admit a more fucked up thought you’ve ever had.  I’ll wait.

Of course when I think about it rationally, I obviously never wanted anything like that to happen.  But some traitorous part of my brain creeps up now and again and makes me think, “Did you really just think that, you sick fuck?  Is that what it would take to make you feel like a ‘real’ medic, or ‘real’ soldier?”  I really do feel fortunate that all the guys in my platoon came home in one piece.  I feel fortunate that I don’t have to live with the memory of pretending to talk to a soldier I knew was dead, because it would help keep everyone else as calm as possible.  I know friends who carry that burden and I don’t know how they do it.  I know my platoon well, and I know they were glad I was their medic, just as I was glad they were my platoon.  But despite feeling like a fraud for not having done my job, I was scared as shit that one day, I would have to.  I went outside the wire with my guys more than 250 times.  How many times can you expect to be lucky?  More than anything I was scared that sooner or later my luck would run out and I wouldn’t get the job done.  If I was a fraud for not doing my job, how much more would I have been for failing at it?

When I came home I started developing some kind of mental funk.  I didn’t know what it was.  I told people it was vertigo because that’s a word that would make sense to them.  They would understand why I was unable to drive at times because my head was spinning so badly.  They would understand why I needed time off work.  They would understand why I was unable to choose food for my own plate at holiday dinners, because the variety of choices were overwhelming.  And most importantly, they wouldn’t ask too many questions.  But once a year or so, I would be in my “funk” for an entire month. For six weeks. No driving, no working, no eating, no TV or radio on while I laid on the couch all day, head buried in the cushions.  And once a year I would hold on with everything I had until that month passed and I woke up one day, back to normal.  One instance when it was at its worst, I had to drive to Grand Rapids to participate in a memorial service for former First Lady Betty Ford.  For two hours I gripped the wheel, forced myself to focus on the car in front of me, and fought thoughts of just closing my eyes, letting go of the wheel, and…who knows what next.  I didn’t want to kill myself.  But, I didn’t care what happened to me.  I just needed my brain to function right.  I can’t describe the frustration I felt in thinking that my mind was not doing what I knew it was supposed to do.  It wouldn’t allow me to make quick decisions.  It wouldn’t allow me to focus.  It wouldn’t allow me to operate at the level I’m accustomed to.  It was betraying me. 

When I got to Grand Rapids I was told that the ceremony had been delayed and to come back the next day.  The sigh of relief I breathed for having finally made it in the first place was replaced by the realization that, though I was not even sure how I made it as far as I had, now I had to turn around and do it all over again.  I don’t remember much of the drive.  I do remember driving past construction zones I had obviously driven through on the way to GR and thinking, “Where the hell did that come from?  Why don’t I remember driving through that?”

I didn’t go back to Grand Rapids the next day.  Instead I had Jamie take me to the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor.  It was probably the fourth or fifth time I had gone over the years since I returned home, and though I was desperate for an answer, I was pretty sure I would leave disappointed like every other time.  I don’t know what was different that day, but by some stroke of luck or fate, I found somebody who helped me.  Over the course of the next 6 months I worked with “Ashley” to develop a treatment plan to combat my issue that included an "in case of emergency" plan should I feel it happening again. For now, every morning I take a pill.  Every night I take a pill.  After talking with my doctor, I expect I’ll be taking that pill every morning and every night indefinitely.  And my mental health is always at the forefront of my mind and my wife’s mind.  I know what I need to do if I feel myself slipping back into the funk.  My wife worries more about it than I do.  Probably because she’s the one who has had to take care of me for the extended periods of my life that have vanished. 

I’ve maintained my normalcy for nearly two years now.  I feel pretty confident that my month-long sabbaticals from life are a thing of the past.  I still have normal ups and downs, but my wife is hyperaware of them, always concerned that I’m not being completely honest with how I feel during the downs.  I’m more aware too.  Aware of when I’m getting close to that edge and what I need to do to back away from it.  I feel like I have as good of a handle on it as I can expect.  But I also realize that if I’m not careful, I could wake up tomorrow with the prospects of a long painful month, thinking to myself, “Not again…” This is my new normal. This is what we don't really talk about. This is the war with myself. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

11th Anniversary of the Start of Operation Iraqi Freedom - A Mother's Perspective

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq. Today, we would like to share the powerful words of Alesia Harris Jimenez Swartz , whose son was Killed in Action in support of Operation Iraq Freedom-2004. We are truly grateful for Alesia for giving Veteran's Refuge Network the opportunity to share her words.

May we never forget our Service Men and Women and our Gold Star families who have made incredible sacrifices on behalf of our great nation. “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." –President Lincoln

From Alesia Harris Jimenez Swartz: In Memory of RJ- RIP 

"March 19, 2014 – On the 11th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, no matter your opinion, we must never lose sight of the tremendous sacrifices our brave men and women in uniform made during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Every one of the more than one million service members that deployed to Iraq, often for multiple tours of duty, deserves our highest praise and deepest debt of gratitude.
We will always honor the sacrifice of U.S. service members who died in Iraq, and those who came home wounded. Every man and woman who served in Iraq carries with them the scars of war. As we remember these quiet heroes this week we are also reminded of their families and their sacrifices, as we also honor and thank them."                                                                                 - Alesia Harris Jimenez Swartz

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Our Vision for Veteran's Refuge Network

Our Vision
By Andrew Turner
2, March 2014

This past Friday night we met with a small group of people to share with them our vision of Veteran’s Refuge Network.  One of the first comments we heard was, “Ok, so you guys are going really big here.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.”  We are going big.  Bigger than anything any of us have ever attempted before.  Up till now we have focused on short-term goals through our social media campaign (promoting PTSD and veteran suicide awareness, developing a community of veterans and supporters, and helping veterans find available resources) and will continue that focus, but on this night, we unveiled our long-term goal for the first time.  We’ve been asked multiple times what our vision is; we haven’t given a solid answer because we haven’t been able to properly articulate it to this point, and because it has been too raw to share.  Our goal for our Friday night meeting was to get face-to-face with other like-minded, passionate people who care for the well-being of veterans as much as we do, and to collectively build our vision and the plan to make it a reality. 

OUR VISION: To build and maintain Michigan’s first Veteran’s Refuge Center, a quiet place to go to heal from the internal and external scars of war. With a focus on PTSD, the center would offer professional counseling and other various forms of therapy geared toward the total healing of mind, body, and soul.

OUR DREAM: The ideal facility includes a central campus with space for individual and group counseling rooms, large family-style dining facilities, open kitchen with space for healthy eating classes, spacious gathering room, full gym, art studio, plus staff and security offices. The veteran’s residence quarters features private rooms, shared bathroom facilities, recreation room with entertainment equipment, and full kitchen. Surrounding grounds would be spacious enough to accommodate canine and horse therapy, swimming, fishing, hiking, trails for biking, and other additional outdoor recreation.

We have done our research and we don’t believe there is any facility in Michigan that does what we will do.  There are a lot of great resources for veterans throughout the state, but none that will offer the variety of treatments and continuity of care that the Veteran’s Refuge Center will. We believe that by building our unique center, we can partner with existing resources to give veterans the care they deserve; the care that many are currently unable to get.

Sharing pizza around a conference table in a room we were allowed free use of, Laura, Jamie and I shared our vision and asked for feedback.  Rob and Cheryl Stewart asked us the tough questions we had not thought through completely, or had not thought at all.  Tim and Lisa Potter offered enthusiastic support, sharing the purpose and passion that has driven them since their son, and our friend, Zack, took his own life as a result of his battle with PTSD. Deb Hoskins gave us emotional support while writing down notes and ideas as fast as they spilled out of us.  

We discussed the strengths of our plan, the passion we share, the unique vision we have, and the understanding of the great need we have.  We acknowledged our weaknesses and inexperience, and the lack of financial resources.  And most importantly, we talked about the opportunity we have.  The opportunity to save lives.  The opportunity to reach the 120,000+ veterans in the Metro Detroit area alone. And the chance to learn from other organizations across the country that are starting similar veteran centers. They are experiencing success and we will too.

OUR NEED: The need is great, but our passion to serve is greater. Our dream is attainable, but we recognize we can’t do it alone. We believe that by joining with like-minded people who each offer a unique perspective, Veteran’s Refuge will be made all the stronger. We are extremely excited to share our vision with you and we are looking forward to the journey we are embarking on.   We are sincerely grateful for the help and support anyone is willing and able to offer.  This is not about us. We will not be successful if it becomes only about us.  But together we can make a lasting and impactful change on the lives of the veterans who have already given so much. 

Thank you for taking the time to read our vision, and please consider partnering with us in this journey. If you are interested in contributing, the Potter family has generously started a gofundme.com campaign for our cause, the link can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/Zacks-PTSD

-Andrew, Laura, and Jamie

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Resource List

Here is a good list of available resources for active duty service members and veterans in the State of Michigan as well as some Nationwide resources to help veterans in need.  On here you'll find Crisis Hotlines, Suicide Prevention Hotlines, Military Chaplains, Veteran's Centers, Crisis Centers and much much more.

It is by no means a comprehensive list, but if you or someone you know is in need of help there are plenty of people out there willing and able to help.  Please don't be silent. Reach out to one of these organizations or reach out to us directly at:

  • Email: veteransrefugenetwork@gmail.com
  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/veteransrefugenetwork
  • Twitter: @VeteransRefuge

Crisis Hotlines:

Veterans Crisis Line

 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

                                           VA Caregiver Support

Crisis Centers:

Common Ground
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302
P: 248-456-8150
F: 248-456-8147

Dial Help
Houghton, MI 49931
P: 906-482-9077
F: 906-482-2502

Gryphon Place
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
P: 269-381-1510
F: 269-381-0935

Macomb County Crisis Center
Chesterfield, MI 48051
P: 586-469-5275
F: 586-948-0223

Neighborhood Service Organization
Detroit, MI 48226
P: 313-961-1060
F: 313-961-5120

Network 180
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
P: 616-336-3765
F: 616-336-2475

Third Level Crisis Intervention Center
Traverse City, MI 49686
P: 231-922-4802


Family Resources:

National Military Family Association: http://www.militaryfamily.org/

Michigan Vet Centers:

Normal working hours are 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday. In an effort to better serve the veteran and family members, upon request Vet Centers will provide services after normal work hours and/or on weekends

Dearborn Vet Center

19855 Outer Drive, Suite 105 W
Dearborn, MI 48124
P: 313-277-1428 Or 877-927-8387

Detroit Vet Center
4161 Cass Avenue
Detroit, MI 48201
P: 313-576-1514 Or 877-927-8387

Escanaba Vet Center
3500 Ludington Street, Suite # 110
Escanaba, MI 49829
P: 906-233-0244

Grand Rapids Vet Center
2050 Breton Rd SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
P: 616-285-5795 Or 877-927-8387

Macomb County Vet Center
42621 Garfield Rd. Suite 105
Clinton Township, MI 48038-5031
P: 586-412-0107 Or 877-927-8387

Pontiac Vet Center
44200 Woodward Avenue, Suite 108
Pontiac, MI 48341
P: 248-874-1015 Or 877-927-8387

Saginaw Vet Center
5360 Hampton Place
Saginaw, MI 48604
P: 989-321-4650 Or 989-321-4650

Traverse City Vet Center
3766 N US 31 South
Traverse City, MI 49684
P: 231-935-0051 Or 877-927-8387


Michigan Army National Guard Chaplains:

CH (1LT) YOUNGS, Darin
Darinyoungs@juno.com 507th EN
Battalion Chaplain

C 616-990-1287
H 616-617-3157
210th MP
Battalion Chaplain

(SE Michigan)
H 517-815-1758
C 517-745-2514
W 517 788-4800x3560
246 TRNS
Battalion Chaplain

H 989-544-2101
C 517-285-6846
O 517-481-8325
46th MP CMD Chaplain

CH (CPT) HALL, James
(Kalamazoo, Battle Creek)
H 269-979-8611
C 269-209-5080
3/238th AV
Battalion Chaplain

CH(Ret.) HEAVNER, Herb
(SE Michigan)
C 248-684-9816
N/A Retired

(Grand Rapids)
H 616-243-4912
O 616-243-2829
C 616-915-8757
BB 517-256-0205

(Grand Rapids)
C 989.448.1125
C 517.420.5161
126 CAV BN
Squadron Chaplain

(Out of state,TN)
H 931-362-2530
C 931-249-6448
182nd FA
Battalion Chaplain

(Grand Rapids)
H 616-893-7345
63rd BDE
(Attached only)

(Marquette/UP Area)
H 906-282-1813
107th EN BN Battalion

C 231-342-6576
H 989-781-0598
BB 517-256-1968
272 RSG
BDE Chaplain

(Marquette/UP Area)
H 906-372-9009
O 906-228-9440
C 906-250-9841
177th MP BDE
Chaplain (Assigned)
46th MP CMD Asst CH

CC (2LT) Chapa, Frank
3/238th AV
(attached only)

CH (CPT) WEBB, Brian
H 810-834-2849
146th MMB

CH (CPT) Stanley, Brian
O 269-694-6311
H 269-694-9369
Fatherstanley1980@gmail.com 119th FA BN

CH (1LT) Dilley, Jared
1225th CSSB
1-125 IN BN



Michigan Army National Guard Resources:

Maria Bouharb
MING Director of Psychological Health Program
National Guard Bureau

Star Behavioral Health Providers
Use this link to search by location for civilian providers with military sensitivity.
(517) 355-7732

Army Community Center
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Army Reserve Center
3870 Three Mile Road NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49534
616-735-4050 x 169

Michigan National Guard Family Programs
3423 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.
Lansing, MI 48906
(517) 481-9893

Military One Source 1-800-342-9647

Army One Source 1-877-811-2769

Defense Center of Excellence Outreach Center 1-866-966-1020

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
1- 877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727)
1- 800-487-4889 (TDD)
SAMSHA National Helpline
1- 800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357)
TTY: 800-487-4889

The American Red Cross Military Family Services 1- 877-272-7337

DoD Safe Helpline | Sexual Assault Support for the DoD Community 1-877-995-5247

The National Domestic Violence Helpline 1-800-799-7233

Michigan Resources:          

Michigan Veteran Resource Center    
1-800-MICH-VET or 2-1-1

National Resource Directory:          

National Resource Directory 
Search resources by keyword, city, state, or zip code
"Connecting Wounded Warriors, Service Members, Veterans, Their Families and Caregivers with Those Who Support Them."

Nationwide Suicide Prevention Resources:

Veterans Crisis Line 
Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone now. 
Start a confidential online chat session at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat now. 
Send a text message to 838255 to connect to a VA responder

National Hopeline Network
Toll-free, 24-hour crisis hotline
(800) SUICIDE or (800) 784-2433

Give an Hour: 
Give an Hour is a National nonprofit that offers free mental health services to military, veterans, and their loved ones regardless of discharge or status. Their services are unlimited and completely free and confidential. To find a provider visit www.giveanhour.org  and click “get help”. Should you experience any difficulty finding a provider, or if there is no provider located in your area please email info@giveanhour.org.

US Army Public Health Command
Comprehensive List of Suicide Prevention Education Resources

Army G1 Suicide Prevention Program: www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide 

Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.afsp.org

American Association of Suicidiology: www.suicidology.org/home

Suicide Prevention Coordinators: 

Anastas, Sharon

Iron Mountain, MI 49801
P: 906-774-3300x32770
F: 906-779-3147

Fabeck, Suzanne

Battle Creek, MI 49037
P: 269-966-5600x35390
F: 269-223-5592

Gray, Sharleen

Saginaw, MI 48602
P: 989-497-2500x11778
F: 989-321-4922

Griffin, Angela

Detroit, MI 48201P: 313-576-3345
F: 313-576-1091

Rivette, Michele

Ann Arbor, MI 48105
P: 734-769-7100x55980
F: 734-845-3235

Veterans Benefits Administration Office:

Eastern Area Office

P.O. Box 303
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
P: 800-827-1000

Detroit VA Regional Office
477 W Michigan, Detroit, MI 48226.

Additional Resources:

Battle Buddy Info
Website: www.battle-buddy.info
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BattleBuddyInfo
Twitter: @BattleBuddyInfo