Transitioning back to civilian life is no easy feat. Military deployments are physically and mentally demanding and leave scars that can never be erased.
That’s the case for veteran Scott West who says the fight for freedom on the battlefield is a daily fight for life.
“The whole time I was bleeding out I could remember like it was yesterday,” says former Army Ranger Scott West.
West joined the Army Rangers at 17 and was deployed to Balad, Iraq. A year later and three days before returning home, he found himself on death’s door.
“I lost both my legs instantly, collapsed both my lungs, crushed my femur in 14 pieces, slit my arm open from wrist to elbow and I bled out for about 55 minutes,” says West.
On a December night in 2005, West volunteered for a mission driving a humvee. While on the look out for IEDs, there was one he could not avoid.
“The last thought, I drug the wheel for the IED to blow up on my side of the vehicle, taking the blast to save the other guys in the vehicle,” says West.
Taking the blast was a choice he made to avoid survivor’s guilt. It worked but his life was still forever changed. West woke up at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center without legs and without hope.
“I’ll never be able to do activities again, I won’t have friends, I’ll never be able to go out, of course with everything I did in the military, I felt like I was done,” says West.
West received prosthetics, went through rehab, and started walking . But his fight was far from over. Depression, isolation, and drug addiction consumed his life — costing him his wife and son.
“The same day she left me I went to rehab,” says West.
Retiring from the Army in 2007, West received help from Veteran Affairs.
Dr. Mark Worley, Veterans Health of the Ozarks CEO, says veterans have “a two year period where their healthcare is free because of the service they’ve been involved with.”
The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville reaches out to service men and women from the beginning.
“We have teams that actually go into the units that are demobilizing, coming into the community, giving them ideas of the resources that they have for veterans health care,” says Dr. Worley.
Suicide prevention and addiction rehabilitation are areas where doctor focus the most. At Veterans Health, doctors are able to use tele-health to reach those like West who turn to isolation.
“If people have severe depression or severe PTSD we do have programs that they can monitor themselves and be in communication through electronics with a nurse that’s monitoring their symptoms and if they have some problems we can intervene earlier,” says Dr. Worley.
While some veterans keep to themselves, others jump into civilian life right after returning home.
“Our veterans are very prideful. They don’t want to come across as failures or that they’re struggling with something,” says Dianna Portillo, Director of Veteran Resources at Northwest Arkansas Community College.
301 veterans are currently enrolled at NWACC with some suffering from PTSD. The office of Veteran Resources on campus offers a helping hand.
“They’re going to have somebody that says ‘Hey, you can do this! So, here’s what we’re going to do in the beginning and guess what? Here you are at the end graduating,” says Portillo.
This fall, the college will add a course for veterans focused on transitioning back to civilian life.
Another group reaching out to former military is Rogers-based Sheepdog Impact Assistance. This group made a tremendous impact on West’s life.
“I’ve been saved twice. Once was when I lost my legs and lived and the second time was when sheepdog found me,” says West.
The non-profit uses service projects and outdoor adventures to get veterans adjusted to civilian life.
“Try to bring them back out to society and show them that life is still worth living,” says Michael Nimmo with Sheepdog Impact Assistance.
Sheepdog invited west to skydive and that’s when the former ranger parachuted from surviving to thriving.
“I’ve ran a 10.2 mile Spartan race, done a 20-mile ruck, hiked Glacier Point in Yosemite,” says West.
West now works for Sheepdog and uses his story to give hope to others.
“I’ve hit rock bottom, as far as you can go, and I’ve come out of it on top,” says West.
Veterans Affairs psychologists say support groups and medical attention is key for veterans to fully adapt to civilian life.
To get in touch with the Veterans Health System of the Ozarks, click here or call 479-443-4301
For eduation information at NWACC’s Veteran Resources, click here or call 479-619-2273.
To get involved with Sheepog Impact Assistance, follow this link or call 417-812-6035.
For additional resources to help your veteran deal with PTSD, click here.