Sally, Mother of Iraq Veteran
Sally is the mother of Michael, an Army Veteran who served in Iraq between 2006 and 2008. Michael suffers from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress after being involved in explosions in Iraq and watching fellow Soldiers die on the battlefield. Michael also lost a brother, who took his own life at age 14, so he experienced a great deal of trauma from an early age. He was eventually medically retired from the Army and returned to his family in Michigan. He came back to Colorado Springs in 2015, but he still suffered from his invisible wounds, self-medicating, adding substance abuse to his challenges. He was arrested in 2016, facing felony charges stemming from his addiction. Sally got a call from Michael from jail in May 2016. However, he bonded out of jail and she was not able to reach him.
Sally, living in Michigan, knew her son was in trouble and feared for his health and safety, and didn’t know how to get help for his legal challenges. She didn’t want to lose another son. Sally didn’t have any connections in Colorado Springs, but knew that her local television news anchor, Stephen Clark, WXYZ TV Detroit, did have a Colorado Springs connection. She reached out via Facebook message, not really expecting a quick or any response. However, Stephen responded right away and reached out to his father, Major General Wes Clark (USAF, Retired), who serves on the Board of Directors of the Home Front Military Network (HFMN). Wes reached out to HFMN staff and a former HFMN Board member, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey. Sally’s one Facebook message opened up a network of local support that changed her and Michael’s course. After reaching out to Stephen, people from Colorado Springs “reached out to me before I even had a chance to call anyone else.” Within a very short period of time, HFMN reached out to CSPD and Leo Martinez, Lead Peer Mentor for the Veteran Trauma Court, and all (and others) connected with her to provide support and help her son.
The collaborative network of military and veteran support agencies that HFMN coordinates showed Sally that help was available for her son – and her. “Many people worked behind the scenes to help Michael,” she says. While Michael was not accepted into the Veteran Trauma/Treatment Court program, many, many individuals advocated for him. And Michael helped himself – and his fellow veterans.
While in the veterans’ ward of the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center (CJC), Michael realized that he wasn’t alone and that he could help fellow veterans. “Michael never gives up…he told me, ‘maybe I’m here for a reason.’” Sally explains that Michael has helped transform the CJC, starting a peer support program, helping other veterans talk about their struggles with invisible wounds and the addictions that led many to the jail, facing DUIs and more serious charges. This work in helping veterans has become a calling for Michael – he has found a new mission. He felt so compelled to help not only those in the El Paso County CJC, but all veterans who are incarcerated. With the help of CJC staff, Lead Peer Mentor Leo and fellow veterans, Michael, on the anniversary of his brother’s suicide, led veterans and CJC staff in the 22 Pushup Challenge to raise awareness and help end veteran suicides.
With this new mission and many military leaders and fellow Soldiers advocating for him in his legal case, in December 2016, Michael received probation. He has been sober since August of 2016 and is receiving services through the Colorado Springs VA Clinic for substance abuse and living in the Crawford House, a private, non-profit veterans’ residential treatment facility run by the Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition.
He told his mother that despite having opportunities to enter programs in other states, he felt compelled to stay in Colorado Springs, where his fellow veterans are, to help them as others helped him. Michael and other veterans who have left the CJC continue to offer peer support, meeting at a local Denny’s and even working with the CJC to arrange for veterans in the jail to still be able to talk to veterans who have been released. “He didn’t go through everything he went through for no reason,” says Sally. “He survived to be able to help others. Michael is so excited about staying involved and helping others. Michael will be a drug addict all his life, but he has a mission now that he never did before.” He is also seeking help for other needs, including his TBI, which he was never able to address while he was self-medicating. “He is excited about doing things in a positive way now.”
Sally wants other family members to know that there is help and not to be ashamed to ask for that help. “Your spouse, son, daughter, family member served our country and there is help out there. The first step is picking up the phone and asking, ‘where do I go for help?’ You don’t have to know what to say or what to ask. Just picking up the phone, you will be amazed at the network of people out there every day and hooking you up with help. The support is life-saving, especially as a parent – you feel like you’re alone. You may feel like you are in a dark tunnel and may be intimidated to make that first call, but if you ask for help, there are so many people to help; they guide you, they give you strength.” Sally also recommends hanging on to that phone number and the resources you collect. You may need help later or others may ask you how to find help. “There is someone out there that has your story – you are not alone. Now other moms reach out to me, and I want to tell them, ‘feel no shame; saving one life is worth it.’ And making sure that people know the help is available – that is what will save someone – knowledge!”