A (somewhat) retired combat veteran, Sergeant Shane Savage, recently became a featured story as part of the New York Times. Savage’s story employs the multitude of struggles that thousands of other combat veterans face shortly after their discharge from service. Savage recalls his battles with narcotics, pain management, survivor’s guilt, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other traumatic ailments that still plague him today.

Reports released by CBS in 2013 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. An affiliate of the VA explained anonymously in a TV interview how prescribing narcotics made it easier to “move along and get to the next patient” in a more timely fashion than taking the time to assess and treat each soldier’s individual needs.

In the case of Sergeant Savage, he experienced bouts of excruciating pain in his ankle and foot after he was part of an IED explosion during combat. In order to treat the pain, Savage was prescribed a myriad of narcotics, which he recalls “made him feel like he was not a real person”. That is, his medication made him feel numb and detached, and his wife later mentioned how he would sleep for “2-3 days at a time because of the narcotics”. He would also “just sit there and cry and sulk and tears” and “not want have anything to do with the family”.

However, the narcotics did little to fully treat Savages physical and emotional pain. While he was recovering from the explosion, Savage said that two other soldiers took his place in combat, and they (among others) died in an explosion. Since hearing this news, Savage suffered from survivor’s guilt, a condition where an individual undergoes almost unsurmountable feelings of guilt and depression for surviving a catastrophe while others died, sometimes through no fault of their own.

Eventually, Savaged tried to commit suicide by slipping into the bathroom and deliberately overdosing on his prescription medication. Thankfully, his wife “broke down the door” and stopped him after he had already ingested 13 morphine tablets. After a short stay in a psychiatric ward, he “no longer felt suicidal,” but his physical pain still bothered him. Because of this pain, Savage still stuck to a consistently heavy regimen of medication. It was not until his young daughter tearfully confronted him that Savage “flushed all of his pills down the drain, threw the pill bottle away, and tore up his prescriptions”.

But unfortunately, Savage’s pain did not go away. Savage recalled how during his visits to the VA, he was surrounded by older and retired veterans who would “have that luxury of ‘I’m in pain so I won’t go out today’”. In contrast, “what do you do when you’re thirty-years-old and have to go to work?” he asks. Savage is currently too young to retire, but due to his many ailments, going to work every day poses a great challenge. In fact, the pain in his foot is so bad that he is now “considering amputation”.

Many soldiers also share Savage’s story, but none of them really have adequate resources to help them cope with their new daily challenges. Luckily, one organization founded in 2012 is determined to make a change.

The organization is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.