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Archive for the ‘PTSD/TBI’ Category

For Jamal Braxton, 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient for the U.S. Air Force, and future U. S. Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, is always ready for a challenge . It begins with an unshakeable belief that there is always something that can be done, whether through service to others or endless compassion.

This empathy for others, to be fully engaged, also drives Jamal to serve others. Both at home and abroad, Jamal has been active in and outside of the base gates. In the U.S. and overseas, he has championed the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy, which purchases new eyeglasses for U.S. residents and distributes used eyeglasses to the disadvantaged in developing countries. In the current school year alone, Jamal has obtained 160 eyeglasses and 70 lenses for the nonprofit.

In addition to enduring the relocations and deployments of his father, Jamal has also known loss. Two of his school-age friends have passed too young, one to an auto accident and the other to a seizure. These experiences have driven him to embrace all that life has to offer while compelling him to give back and encouraging and supporting others to do the same.

While he acknowledges the obstacles inherent to military life, Jamal is poetic in describing the positive experiences he has had, particularly when describing the family’s time in Japan. “I personally loved living in Japan, because although they’re modern they appreciate nature to its fullest,” said Jamal. “Japan has shown me how to truly appreciate nature from their breath-taking scenery and by holding festivals like the Cherry Blossoms Festival and Hanami both appreciating the beauty of flowers.”

He has also been extremely active with the Red Cross at home and during his time in Germany. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella Initiative fundraiser.

He said his time with the Red Cross has fueled his aspiration to be a neurosurgeon one day. “I have always had an interest in the function of the brain and its amazing abilities from simple tasks like our five senses to language comprehension,” said Jamal. “So, my passion for the brain and the wanting to help others has steered me to the field of Neurology.” He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law.

Jamal doesn’t stop there. He is a varsity athlete in swimming, track and field and cross country, active in Scouting, and has a job as a lifeguard.

Jamal is the son of Master Sgt. Lawrence Braxton and Ahllam Braxton of Hill AFB, UT. With all he has accomplished to date, the sky is the limit for this young man.

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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teamdepotblog1Mission. It is something that comes up almost immediately when we talk about what we do here at Operation Homefront.

In deeper discussions, many of us in the non-profit community will bring up another word. Calling. Most all of us in the Operation Homefront community have met one or more military or veteran families that have had a profound impact on us individually. Sometimes, fate, or destiny, brings that message home in away that moves us deeply and reminds us that there is a greater purpose to our existence. The time when being in the right place at the right time changed a life.

Last month on our blog, we wrote about how a chance meeting between a weary traveler and a soldier on Thanksgiving Eve led to thousands of holiday meals being distributed to families ever since through our Holiday Meals for Military program. Recently, the right place at the right time for one struggling veteran family was the plumbing aisle of Home Depot in Hiram GA.

A caring employee at the store finds a woman sobbing while surveying plumbing fixtures, clearly at her wit’s end. The employee could have walked on by. But he didn’t. What poured forth from the woman was heart-breaking: her husband was a veteran with severe PTSD and physical injuries. They had four children, one with special needs. She was struggling to handle it all in a home seemingly falling down around them.

teamdepotblog2The “we-help-veterans” ethos in Home Depot stores is imbued in every staff member, so he brought her to the store’s Pro Desk to see what could be done.

Fast forward a few months. Operation Homefront, along with partners Home Depot Foundation and ServPro, came to the rescue to remediate mold, repair rain-damaged drywall, install a new water heater, replace hole-laden and uneven flooring, and install new and working cabinetry.

Together, we were able to make their house not just “livable”, but love-able.

teamdepotblog3These repairs won’t fix everything that troubles this family, true. It doesn’t fix the service member’s health issues. It doesn’t address the special needs of this woman’s fourth child. There is still much ahead for this family to tackle. But now the family has a safe, clean place in which to live so they can move on and up to a stable and secure future.

Thank you to our friends at The Home Depot Foundation for seeing that this family deserved more and making it happen.

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mason-on-deck

The Masons were one of 750 military families invited to attend “Honor. Family. Fun.” hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines in New York City. The event featured a special concert by Carrie Underwood and a naming ceremony for the newest ship in their fleet, the Carnival Vista. See more pictures here

Shay Mason served in the military as an Army Counterintelligence Agent and as a Russian linguist…and then she completed her active duty service in 1989.

Shay met Gary while at Howard University and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism. They fell in love, got married and then Gary decided to join the military.

Gary enlisted in the Army for a number of reasons: a better life, travel, opportunity, future stability for his family, and to serve his country. Shay and Gary agreed that Gary would serve, hoping to make the Army a career. During his years of service, they welcomed four children into their family.

As an infantry officer, Gary was deployed three times to the Middle East. His first deployment was to Iraq in 2008. His second and third were to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. The last two missions were Special Forces and after serving for fifteen years, Gary had to retire in 2015.

He medically retired with an honorable discharge due to injuries he sustained from his last deployment. He suffered from back and ankle injuries and battles the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shay became his full-time primary caregiver.

While Gary was transitioning out of the military, the condominium they were renting received serious water damage that made it uninhabitable. They had no place to call home and were forced to stay at a local hotel. Their financial situation became dire, causing additional stress for the family of six.

While living at a local hotel, they heard about Operation Homefront Villages and the rent-free transitional housing program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They applied and were accepted and still currently reside there.

The Village provides them with a furnished apartment with all rent and utilities covered. In addition, families who stay at the Village get financial counseling and attend support groups with other wounded veteran families to help them make a successful transition to civilian life.

“Living at Operation Homefront’s Village is an opportunity – a tremendous blessing and stress relief,” said Gary. “We can save money, repair our credit, and restablize our children and focus on getting healthier as a family.”

So far, as a result of being at the Village, they have saved $14,000, and paid off $6,000 in debt.

The Masons are definitely on their way to a strong, stable future. Two of their kids are attending college and the two younger children are doing well in their respective schools.

“We have had a great time living there, there are other military families living at the Village and we bonded,” said Gary. “We are in communication with them and we hang out. There is a sense of community and it makes it easy for us…there is so much veteran support.”

Gary and Shay have started a family business to create media support kits. They will use these to help other military families navigate the unique challenges of military life, using their past experience to benefit others.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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Former Marine Sayku Dudley describes his childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, as rough. As a kid, Sayku was motivated to find a better life for himself.

Sayku started going to softball games and barbeques hosted by local military recruiters and became good friends with one of them.

“As things became worse in my environment,” said Sayku, “I decided to … join the military. As I was deciding which branch of service to go into, I thought the Marines looked the toughest and the fittest. I went into the Marines because I wanted to look like that guy who stood out from the rest.”

dudleyAfter basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina, Sayku was stationed at Twenty-nine Palms, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California.  He spent time in Japan and Mexico before returning to Atlanta to join the Marine Reserves.

After 9/11, Sayku deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  “I was almost killed,” said Sayku. “But I recovered.” Eventually he came back to Georgia. “My career was cut short at the end,” said Sayku. “I am fighting for medical retirement. I have had multiple personal problems. I have lost stripes. Since 2009, I have been going through the storm of my life.”

Sayku struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. His financial situation was bleak and he faced having his lights and utilities shut off. He first turned to Wounded Warrior Project for help, and in turn, they referred him to Operation Homefront.  Operation Homefront was able to provide   the financial assistance he needed during a difficult financial time.

Sakyu request was just one of over 1,700 military families we’ve helped so far this year, and one of 11,000 since our inception in 2012.  89.4% of our 2016 clients surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that OH’s Emergency Assistance Program helps build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Sayku is thankful that things are better now than they were last year. “I was in a mental state that I didn’t know I was in or how to get out. After I left the military, I had problems and haven’t been able to do. This is not where I ever thought I would be.”

To those who donate to OH, Sayku said, “There are not a lot of words. I would rather do than say. I am so very thankful. I am glad that you (OH) was able to help me. Asking for help really checks your pride. I am very thankful for the help, and I am on a new path and thanks to you I can do for now. I definitely know what it’s like to not have. It’s very humbling to be where I am.”

Sayku recently began work at Home Depot part-time. “I haven’t been in the work world for a while,” said Sayku. “This is a new start. I have been on a rocky road filled with debts and family problems. But now I am in a different place and keep remembering how far I came. I am starting over new. This time I am going to succeed either by working multiple jobs or going back to school.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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“I took a leap of faith and joined the Air Force.”

That’s how Dominick Griego describes his decision to serve. He had entered college, trying to balance the demands of a young family, college and a job. But he needed healthcare and a constant paycheck. So he enlisted.

Little did he know that decision would impact his family in ways he never imagined.

“The beauty of joining the Air Force was that I was also afforded the opportunity to see the world.” After training at two locations in Texas, he was stationed in Italy with his wife, Cecilia. “Italy was amazing,” said Dominick. “Both of my girls were born there.”

After Italy, the family was stationed in New Jersey for seven years. Dominick had seven deployments during his thirteen years of service. “I was gone a lot,” said Dominick. “It was a trying factor on my family, especially the girls. But we faced every opportunity and challenge thanks to my wonderful wife.”

dom-griego-9During Dominick’s last deployment to Afghanistan, he was hurt. At first, there was just the close call…Dominick was checking on an infrastructure in an area known as “Rocket City” when an IDF mortar blew up outside the chow hall. But three weeks later in Kabul, Dominick and his operations team were driving to another location when a suicide bomber drove into them. Dominick and his team ended up five feet away from 500-pound bomb.

“We ended up inside an attack and were under heavy fire,” said Dominick. “I passed out and when I came to, we were engaged by an enemy in the city. Fortunately, we were able to fight back and maneuver tactically. There were six of us and all six survived and returned home with minimal injuries. Sometimes you get lucky. I was stubborn and didn’t seek medical treatment. I stumbled around in country before ending up in hospital. They told me to make sure I rested my brain.”

Dominick decided to stay on in Afghanistan for six months. He was assigned to a task force looking for corruption and fraud. Six months turned into 13 months. Finally, in July 2014, he returned to the states. Dominick received a Purple Heart for his bravery and courage in the attacks in Kabul.

Despite his injuries, and the fact that Dominick had recently been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, Dominick reenlisted in the Air Force for another term in January 2016. He deals with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and PTSD sleep deprivation.

Dominick was a Portraits in Courage honoree and attended an awards ceremony at the Pentagon. While he was there, he met one of our Operation Homefront staff members. Dominick’s wife took a business card.

When the Griego family’s heat and AC unit stopped working efficiently, the family recalled their chance meeting with Operation Homefront and filled out an application for assistance—Dominick didn’t believe the family would qualify. “I didn’t think that I was a candidate for help because you can’t see my injuries,” said Dominick. “Sometimes I am also in denial about my injuries.”

“The original heating unit was oil and the new unit is natural gas,” said Cecilia. “We all have allergies which was sometimes aggravated by the oil heat and it dried us out. This is different heat. We no longer have stress from worrying about fixing it. There is no way we could have done this without Operation Homefront’s help.”

dom-griego-2“I am at home a lot,” said Dominick. “What you guys did was amazing. Because of my health, I had no motivation to mentally or physically address the AC issue. The lack of efficient heat and AC made the situation more miserable as I was recovering from surgeries and chemo.”

“A lot of people tell me thank you for your service,” said Dominick. “Because my wounds are not visible, people don’t understand. But to say thank you and then do something like your donors do to say thanks—to blindly give. That gesture is beyond words. What you and your donors do justifies and reinstates the reason why I serve and wear the uniform and would do anything to protect.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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michael-figueroa-picIt was a day that shook our country to its core. It also motivated thousands of young American men and women to step forward to serve in the military.

Michael Figueroa is no exception.

Born in Miami, Florida, Michael wanted to make a difference after witnessing the attacks of September 11. He enlisted in the Marines a few years later and served for almost 11 years before his medical retirement.

During his time in the Marine Corps, Figueroa was deployed on two separate occasions to Fallujah, Iraq.  As with many of his fellow veterans, the wounds were not visible and took time to surface. Once back in the United States, Figueroa began to suffer from the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a Traumatic Brain Injury.

It hasn’t been an easy transition for Figueroa and his family. Figueroa’s illness has caused him to be placed in a military medical treatment facility for three separate occasions causing separation from his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Olivia.

“Due to my illness, I was being medically retired prematurely,” said Figueroa. “Also because of my illness, I have cognitive problems and have to rely strongly on my wife.”

Thanks to Operation Homefront, Figueroa and his family were able to be placed in one of our rent-free transitional apartments at the Operation Homefront Village in San Diego. The villages provide a furnished apartment, financial counseling and a network of resident military families to connect with. Being at the Village served to alleviate some of the family’s transitional and financial stress.

“Receiving an apartment helped us relieve the burden of possible homelessness which in turn helps our mental and financial well-being,” said Figueroa. “In periods of extreme stress, my mind cannot handle it at times, so this has helped me and my family keep our mental stability through this transition.”

Michael was able to save $16,000 and reduce his overall debt by $5,000. He and Melissa were able to accomplish several of their financial goals and educational benefits. Their future plans are to move to Oceanside and stay actively involved in the military community. Michael is studying computer science and hopes to finish his degree at Mira Costa College.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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Guest blog from Dr. Sara Boz, Senior Director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program

Suicide is a complex and frightening topic.  In our community, it hits so close to home that our reaction tends to be denial. Suicide is a hard topic to open up about… but we can no longer ignore it. We have to talk about it.

There is a phrase that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We need to take the topic of suicide out of the shadows and talk openly.

When a caregiver or a veteran tells me their story about a failed suicide attempt, it normally goes like this:

“I probably would have succeeded in killing myself, if only…”

  • “If only the phone hadn’t rang.”
  • “If only I had more pills.”
  • “If only the ambulance had arrived a little later.”

When a person plans their suicide they make the very final decision to die before their time on Earth is over.  They no longer fear death and dying.  They are at the point at which they perceive death is better than their current situation.  Those who have tried tell me that they felt there was no other solution to their pain and suffering.  They feel hopeless and in a single, desperate moment… they find the will and the means.

“If only” there was something we could do.

Working with veterans and their caregivers as director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program, I have talked with many families who face the challenge of healing from both the seen and unseen wounds of war.  There are some ways we can help create more “if only’s:”

  • We can work on being more aware of the people we care about.  KNOW that it’s okay to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal. If I notice that someone is giving up, feeling hopeless, or not themselves, I will ask how I can help.
  • Put yourself in others’ shoes. I’ve tried to imagine the different ways of taking one’s own life. Maybe I can’t fully grasp how someone is willing to accept the pain that will likely accompany suicide but I can try and see the path they took to get to that point. Could it be that veterans do not have a fear of death and dying because they were exposed to so much death during their combat tours?  Maybe they think that the pain they are experiencing, whether emotional or physical, is more than the pain they would feel through death.  Understanding the path may help us steer someone off of it at any point before the end.
  • It’s okay to be persistent. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks, “I did enough to prevent this.”  I have known a few people who have been successful in their suicide attempts.  I will always wonder if I could have done more and asked more questions. If a caregiver or veteran talks about suicide, I will not leave them alone. A few years ago, a caregiver called me to ask for a housing resource.  During the conversation she mentioned that her husband may be suicidal because of the situation they were in.  She explained that there were signs that he was giving up.  I listened to her story, asked a lot of questions, and told her I could help. In this instance, the caregiver was way ahead of me. She already had a plan to get him to a physician that week and had made the house safe and free of all weapons over the past few weeks.  She planned to drive her husband straight to the emergency room if the situation progressed.  I called her about a year later to see how she was doing and they are all now doing well. Which proves that there is always hope…such an important message to communicate to the person who wants to give up.

I believe that most people don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone to give up on their life.  There is no definite solution to preventing suicide, and the tragic fact is that someone will find a way if they are resolute enough.  But maybe, just maybe, we can take steps that will save one. And then another. And before we know it, we have saved more than we have lost.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you know of someone who may be suicidal, please refer them to the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press “1” or go to https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ for more information including how to identify the warning signs.

 

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