“I didn’t want anyone else to fall through the cracks like I did, so I became an advocate.”

By MaryTherese GriffinJune 30, 2023

“I didn’t want anyone else to fall through the cracks like I did, so I became an advocate.”
Veteran turned Advocate, Richard Rodriguez, at the 2023 ARCCD Biennial Training at Fort Liberty, N.C., June 27, 2023. (Photo Credit: MaryTherese Griffin) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LIBERTY, N.C. - Richard Rodriguez advocates for Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. His time in the military and shortly before led him to where he is today.

Both jobs were fulfilling but riddled with hardships for Rodriguez.

“During my active-duty time I was farmed out to the Army even though I was Navy. I was always with an Army Unit. I did un-exploded ordinance road clearing, convoy security, high value personnel transfer, detainee operations, and counter insurgency.”

He was an E-6 Operations Specialist 1st Class for 11 and a half years. Before he entered the military, he was a first responder at 19 when 9-11 happened. A few months later he learned he had stage 3 lymphoma from being exposed to ground zero. He beat cancer but it came back a few years later and he was given six months to live. That was 21 years ago.

“In the Navy I was one of the first waves to enter Iraq. I was in constant gun fire, got hit by several Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). I was able to quickly recover but during multiple deployments from 2006 -2009 I kept getting hit by more IED’s. I was shot twice, and I was now so injured I couldn’t continue my military service, so I retired in 2012.” That’s when the advocacy career field came into play.

“When I got out of the Navy, I had to think, what will my purpose in life be?” He wanted something to fulfill him and show him he had a mission in life. “In the military we’ve always been told what our mission was, we always had supervisors, we always had orders to follow, so now I was at that moment where I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do. Medically retiring is very scary and finding your new mission without anyone telling you can be overwhelming.”

He found his new purpose because he knew he wanted to help people. “I want to see people get the proper care no matter what branch of the military they were in.”

The Orlando-based advocate works with both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to help in any way he can.

“What I learned especially with doing this job, is nobody plans on getting injured, nobody plans on getting sick. You are only thinking of that long-term career, so we only see our longevity and retirement, we don’t think about what happens if we get blown up or shot. That’s not really what’s on our minds as service members.” The unthinkable does happen just like it did to him.

“When it does happen, the unexpected that comes up, we think where do we turn to? When I was in the Navy, I didn’t know about Navy Safe Harbor, it wasn’t until after I retired that I learned there was a wounded warrior program that could have helped me.” He says he fell through the cracks.

“I didn’t want anyone else to fall through the cracks like I did so I became an advocate.” He’s worked as an advocate going on 12 years now, the first half for the Navy and the last six for ARCP’s Army Recovery Care Coordination Directorate (ARCCD).

Helping Soldiers and their Families through hardships be it medical, financial, or educational, he wanted to be that bright light.

“Every hardship is unique. If someone has PTSD for example and so does someone else, they are very different versions. Just because they have the same condition doesn’t mean they have the same hardships.”

He says finding what works for each person is what makes a difference in his life.

“I’ve had people say the only reason I’m alive right now is because I want to turn into you! How do I respond to that? I want to successfully find resolutions that work long-term for these folks.”

Rodriguez says it’s up to the service member or family member to have the discipline and desire to be where they want to be.

“Once service members get to that point, there is no describing the sheer enjoyment I have to see them thrive in their own environment. I will definitely help them get there.”