By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
Real warriors ask for help when they need it. Like retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido, who sought out the help he and his family needed after he was wounded in Baqubah, Iraq.
Pulido’s vehicle hit a roadside bomb in August 2004. He suffered shrapnel wounds to the left side of his body and broke his knee in three places. Surgeons were unable to repair the damage to his leg, and it was amputated almost two months after he was wounded.
“It wasn’t until my left leg was amputated … that the mental wounds of war would sink in,” Pulido said today.
Until then, he said, he’d been so preoccupied with addressing his physical injuries that he hadn’t yet acknowledged his invisible wounds.
“Mentally, I was in a place that I was alone,” Pulido said. “I felt that the support system was there for me, but certainly I was dealing with the grieving of my lost left limb.”
Before he decided he needed help, Pulido said he experienced thoughts of suicide, night sweats and night terrors. Just hours after his leg was amputated, he said, he decided he didn’t want to live.
But, Pulido continued, “As hard as it was to say at the time to myself, I knew that that wasn’t the answer.”
One of the resources that Pulido and his family relied on was the Real Warriors Campaign, which he credits with helping them find counseling and learn to live with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“You have to get counseling, you have to seek help, and certainly, you have to have a support system,” he said.
The Real Warriors Campaign was launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in 2009, “to promote the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery and supporting reintegration of returning service members, veterans and their families,” according to the campaign’s website. The program is “an integral part of the Defense Department’s overall effort to encourage warriors and families to seek appropriate care and support for psychological health concerns.”
Besides links to psychological health resources, the site features profiles of service members who, when challenged by combat stress and other injuries, reached out for the help they needed to carry on with the mission — and their lives.
The outreach goes both ways, said Ken MacGarrigle from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Outreach Team. In the past, he said, the VA would wait for troops to seek them out. Now, the VA seeks out troops when they return from theater and helps them sign up for benefits, he said, a program which has had great success among National Guard and reserve forces.
When they return from a deployment, troops can sign up for health care benefits using VA Form 10-10EZ, MacGarrigle said.
“That is sent to the local VA, and from there they do the outreach,” he said. If the service member is still covered by TRICARE, they can receive a referral to a TRICARE doctor instead, he noted.
“Real Warriors has been a real help there … getting the word out,” MacGarrigle said. “We want to have successful care [and] positive outcomes and that’s going to take place if there’s early intervention.”
“I’m glad that there are services in place and the VA and the Department of Defense have recognized that families need to be connected and to be part of the unit, and certainly need to be part of the recovery process,” Pulido said.
“We want to get the word out to let everyone know that we’re not going to leave them behind on the field of battle and we’re going to take care of them and their families on the home front,” he added.
For more information about the Real Warriors Campaign, visit the website here.