Wounded Veteran pays it forward
February 12, 2014
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Feb. 13, 2014) -- When Jeremy Horsley got hurt, he landed in a labyrinth of challenges that he had to lead himself through. Back in 2004, the Army offered medical care and physical evaluation board liaison officers, but it would be more than two years before the idea of warrior transition units came into existence.
Now an Army Wounded Warrior, or AW2 Program advocate here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., one could say that Horsley's first client as a Veterans advocate was himself.
When he deployed to Afghanistan with the 25th Infantry Division in 2004, Horsley knew the risks of his profession.
"We all know the hazards of what we get ourselves into, so the chances of getting hurt are always out there … it just comes with the job," Horsley said.
That risk became a reality on Dec. 19, 2004, when Horsley and his unit engaged in an intense firefight on the Pakistani border. He survived, but with a price -- vision loss in one eye, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade, an injured neck, a traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
After a string of medevac flights landed him back at his rear detachment in Hawaii, Horsley was assigned a PEBLO and given plenty of support from his unit to take care of his medical appointments. Other than that, "I learned how to do it on my own," he said.
About six months after he was injured, Horsley found himself out of the Army with a medical retirement and an unknown future to chart as a Veteran civilian. At 25 years old, he struggled to find a new career path as he followed his future wife Brianne to the Seattle area where she had a job waiting and he could take advantage of the Veterans Affairs healthcare in the region.
"The first year after I got out was rough, I mean, not just the surgeries that I had back to back that I was doing but understanding what was kind of going on with the PTSD, (and) the TBI portion feeling like I was dyslexic and not understanding what was really happening. It takes a little bit to … adjust and get your feet settled on the ground," Horsley said.
His traumatic brain injury, or TBI symptoms surfaced when he took college classes that fall; writing became difficult and math problems would jumble. It would take talking to his provider at the VA to identify his TBI and to start getting help for it.
Help for his PTSD came in the form of his first civilian job -- coaching high school wrestling.
"It's probably more the focus than it is anything else. You're teaching kids how to do something and be successful at it," Horsley said, describing how coaching helps settle him.
While neither college nor his retail job were good matches, getting a contracting job as an Army recruiter in 2007 fit him well.
"That got me working with the military again," he said.
His start as an Army recruiter coincided with the AW2 program contacting him and enrolling him as a client (the program for severely injured Veterans started a year after Horsley got injured). His new advocate told him about Traumatic Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, which he received two weeks after he applied. His advocate also got him into a fly-fishing camp designed around visually-impaired Veterans where he traded resources with fellow Veterans.
It would also be his advocate who later encouraged Horsley to apply for an AW2 position; by then, he was working for the military police on base and already unofficially advocating for other Veterans by exchanging resources and telling his advocate what he learned. In October 2012, Horsley officially joined the AW2 team, stepping into a role where he once again got to take care of Soldiers.
"You're like a squad leader before and after. You're there to make sure that they know their benefits, they enroll in the benefits, and are getting their benefits," he said.
While he still gets contacted by his own AW2 advocate occasionally for a check-in, Horsley is serving as a sort of life coach for his own group of Soldiers and Veterans, assisting them with benefits and whatever hurdles they may come across.
"To me it's the right thing … and then that person may be successful down the line to help someone else. It's just one of those pay it forward things, I guess," he said.