Army Contract Specialist Finds hope and strength while battling combat injuries
January 30, 2014
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. (Jan. 30, 2014) -- Autumn 2013 was a memorable time for Mitch Chapman, an Army Contracting Command-Rock Island employee. It was memorable for wholly different reasons than during the same season 5 years ago.
On October 13, 2008, Chapman, a then-infantryman serving with the Illinois National Guard, was driving the lead vehicle of a three-vehicle convoy on a road outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. The vehicle was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device, flipping over and killing his friend, Cpl. Scott Dimond, and seriously injuring Chapman and his commander.
The attack resulted in a multitude of physical and mental afflictions that Chapman continues to battle.
Five years to the day after being ambushed in Afghanistan, Chapman walked across the stage at Ashford University, Davenport, Iowa, to receive his bachelor's degree in operations management and analysis, with a minor in project management.
Chapman said he is proud of his achievement, particularly because he doesn't like school. A month after receiving his degree, his hard work paid off when he accepted a contract specialist position at Army Contracting Command-Rock Island, or ACC-RI. Chapman had been a records management specialist in the contract closeout branch since April 2012.
On occasion, even the seemingly innocuous task of handling boxes in the contract closeout warehouse had the power to take Chapman back to the battlefield.
"They are dusty and you get this smell on your hands and some have really brought me back to theater," said Chapman. "People don't think about triggers like that."
Chapman said he is looking forward to the new challenges associated with being a contract specialist.
DAILY STRUGGLES CONTINUE
Chapman, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said he experienced one of the most frustrating examples of the stigma associated with PTSD when he was processing into a position with the Rock Island Arsenal Police Department in May 2010, his first position at RIA.
"I came in for my physical and the lady in medical did blood work and she said, 'Oh, you've got PTSD and you're going to carry a gun? That's not right.' I hate when people associate PTSD with crazy. PTSD does cause major issues and I get that, but not everyone handles it in a negative way," said Chapman.
Chapman said he is not a big believer in counseling as a way to address his PTSD, because many of the counselors and psychologists he has seen simply rush into prescribing medication before attempting to understand Chapman as a person.
However, Chapman said there is one counselor in Danville, Ill., who he will work with, and one psychiatrist -- an Army veteran who works at the Veterans Administration -- who understands Chapman's need to be seen as a person, not a problem to be solved.
"The first time we met, [the psychiatrist] sat down and wanted to talk about football and basketball," said Chapman. "He sat down and got to know me. Then I felt like I could talk to him."
Chapman said he finds strength in speaking with other veterans dealing with PTSD. As an alumnus of the Wounded Warrior Program and a former member of the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit - Illinois, Chapman was able to meet others going through similar experiences.
Though Chapman has had only minimal contact with these groups recently, he said he truly enjoys any opportunity he gets to work with veterans who are struggling, and said one of his goals is to increase his ability to meet and assist other veterans.
Aside from PTSD, Chapman also suffers from traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, constant headaches and increasingly painful nerve damage.
"It's getting worse and the doctors are saying that the nerves [in my back] are settling and getting pinched," said Chapman. "When people ask about my pain level, I tell them it's an 8-to-10 on a daily basis. You wouldn't know it looking at me but after 5 years what can you do? You can sit there and whine and moan and complain or you can deal with it and move on."
Some days, Chapman said, it feels as if the care he receives is only making his problems worse. He feels it is difficult to get proper care, as many doctors are quick to prescribe medication to address his pain, instead of researching alternate methods to eliminate or reduce pain.
"The VA has been giving me medicine that knocks me out for days," said Chapman. "One Friday night, they gave me 300 milligrams of gabapentin and I couldn't figure out how to get out of my bedroom. I can't live like that."
"[One] Friday, my back pain was a 15 on a 1-to-10 scale and [the doctor] told me to take the morphine through the weekend and to come back on Monday," said Chapman. "You would think that would mean 4, maybe 5 pills. She gave me 30 15-milligram doses of morphine and told me to take one every 4 hours. I took one and I was out."
Chapman is hopeful that there will be some resolution to his physical pain short of surgery. However, he said he knows that is literally a heavy load. In April 2012, the file containing the paperwork detailing his injuries weighed 15 pounds.
DAY BY DAY
One aspect of his life that helps him cope with his PTSD and the mobility issues caused by his injuries is his service dog. Justice is a 3-year-old black Labrador, and a near-constant companion to Chapman, both at home and in the office.
"He's my battle buddy," said Chapman. "He's always got my back and is there for me unconditionally."
Chapman said there is one challenge associated with bringing Justice to work: keeping Justice's "social butterfly" tendencies under control. Chapman said Justice loves people and people like to lavish him with attention.
"I need to hold him to a higher standard because he is serving me," said Chapman. "He works for me."
While Justice provides him with constant assistance, Chapman said his greatest source of support is his family. Chapman said his wife, Lindsey, and their two daughters, Kayla and Jillian, are reminders of how fortunate he is.
They also keep him hopeful that time will help heal, or a least minimize the toll his injuries have on him. On Oct. 24, that support grew, when the Chapman's welcomed baby boy Nicholas Scott into their family.
"My doctor said recently that he knows that I'm trying to get better and will not give up, because if I didn't really care about my wife and kids, why would I try to get better?" said Chapman.