Long Wait Times

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story shadowing a veteran and his quest to seek help through the VA

Submitted: June 24, 2016

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Submitted: June 24, 2016

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Long Wait Times

William is a 29 year old Marine Corps veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. He served two courageous tours in Iraq where he was exposed to mild combat stress as a radio operator. He was exposed to indirect fire by mortars, small arms fire aimed at his truck and a few Improvised explosive device detonations on his convoy, but not directly on his vehicle. He separated honorably out of the Marine Corps, got married to a wonderful wife, bought a house and had a great job as an IT tech at the local power plant.

William’s symptoms of PTSD were manageable, he had mild forms of hyper-vigilance and the occasional nightmare, though he never felt the need to seek therapy or be medicated due to the fact his symptoms did not interfere with normal daily functions. Three years after being out of the military, and five years being out of combat, he and his wife went to baseball game that changed the course of his life. William insisted that they sit in the very back of the stadium so he could keep an eye on the crowd and feel comfortable. Unfortunately, they sat relatively close to the cannon that went off in celebration of a home run. When the home team scored a home run the cannon blasted ear piercingly loud right next to them.

The blast sounded exactly like a mortar round that nearly missed William’s tent he was bundled up in, in the middle of the Iraqi desert during his deployment. The same feelings he felt when he was in Iraq, are now streaming through his body at the baseball game. His heart rate is elevated, there is an empty pit in his stomach, he is sweating, he is looking for a safe place to take cover, and he is looking for his flak and Kevlar. He can smell the powder from the mortar, he can feel the sand on his fingers, and he can hear the yelling of his SGT telling them to take cover. William is back in Iraq-in his mind and his physiological symptoms show it.

His wife looked over and saw him hiding under the bleachers hyperventilating and sweating, at first she thought he was having a heart attack. After hearing William yell at her to “GET DOWN,” she could see the fear in his eyes, the pale blemish on his face and knew something was seriously wrong, and it was related to his deployments.

William’s wife quickly re-assured him that everything was ok, got down on the ground with him, put her arm around him and slowly talked to him and reassured him that he was at a baseball game and not in the desert. After feeling the calm touch of his wife, and her soothing voice, he snapped out of his flashback and realized what was going on. It was at this point William realized he needed to seek treatment.

William was apprehensive about visiting the VA because he did not want to feel weak or injured just like the military taught him, but he swallowed his pride and went. Upon meeting with the psych tech he was hoping to briefly see the psychiatrist, let him/her know what happened, get on some type of medication or therapy and be on his way. The psych tech wrote down William’s symptoms and gave him an appointment slip to see the psychiatrist along with a veteran’s crisis hotline number card. William looked down at the appointment slip and it read: “June 17th 2016”, he pulled out his phone and looked at the date, it read: “March 19th 2016.” He said, “Sir, I think there is some kind of mistake, this appointment slip says June 17th, that is three months away!” The psych tech chuckled and said, "No sir, we are experiencing a high volume of patients and only have one psychiatrist on staff."

Extremely disappointed, William left the VA with his appointment slip in hand, crumbled it up and threw it away. He felt betrayed by the organization that promised to have his back after he had his country’s back. Still feeling the residual aftershock of his flashback yesterday at the baseball game, he had a heightened sense of anxiety and did not sleep the previous night. He was extremely tired and needed to sleep, so he stopped at the liquor store and grabbed a pint of vodka.

For the next month, William’s symptoms drastically increased to the point where he was relying on the vodka to sleep and function throughout the day. He is emotionally numb, detached from the world and relying on a state of inebriation to function. His wife starts to feel emotionally neglected and cut off from the relationship. William shows no sign of affection, no sign of emotion he is like a robot. She soon leaves him out of frustration due to his drinking and emotional numbness.

Left abandoned by the VA and his wife William continues to drink profoundly. He feels hopeless and slips into a major state of depression. William quit his job, and is housebound; he only leaves his home to leave to get food and more liquor.

He boarded up all of his windows with fear of a surprise attack by the enemy and installed cameras on every corner of his house. William is now having nightmares every night, extreme paranoia, distrust and detachment from people and extreme hyper-vigilance. His drinking has now increased to two pints of vodka a day and his health is slowly deteriorating.

William is having thoughts of ending his life. He realizes it is crumbling in front of him and there is nothing he can do about it. He lost his job his wife and now his sanity.

He found the veterans crisis card and gave it a call.

It went straight to voice-mail.

He called the VA hospital, the phone rang and rang yet no one answered.

William felt beat.

 

On June 17th 2016 William took his own life.

 

 

The medication he thought was helping him was the fuel to his own death. He felt like it was his only option and could’t wait three months to see the psychiatrist, he needed help now and the vodka was right across the street. 

Everything happened so fast, the illness is not insidious, it lies dormant and can hit you like a ton of bricks at any point in time. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened if there were a few more psychiatrists on staff that could have worked him into their schedule and put him on the appropriate medication to manage his symptoms. 

 

A life might have been saved.


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