Soldier to Civilian

By: Nicolette Schleisman Email
By: Nicolette Schleisman Email

GRAYSON COUNTY, TX -- It's something most of us can't even imagine, going into combat, risking your life, and seeing your comrades risk theirs. But for returning veterans, coming home can be even harder than leaving.

"That initial joy, tears flow, you want to hold on to them and not let them go. That lasts for a little bit and then you start to worry," said Tony Cruz.

"When I got home... It was gratitude, I had taken everything for granted when I was a civilian," said Robert Blevins, Airbourne Combat Medic - Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

There are nearly 13,000 veterans in Grayson County alone. But once they complete their mission to defend the flag, they begin a new mission - one that can be just as difficult - to become a civilian once again.

Tony Cruz is a friend of Robert Blevins and knew him before Blevins fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"With Robert, definitely I saw just the dramatic change when he got home. He was happy, but I think inside, his heart he was still out on the field," said Cruz.

"We see a situation completely different than the average person. The average person, a crisis over something small isn't a crisis to us cause we compare it to 'well are you getting shot at?' then its probably not a bad day then,'" said Blevins.

Soldiers like Blevins come home and face a difficult transition into the workforce.

"If a fella or a lady is hurt or is traumatized as a result of their military career, it significantly hinders their ability to hold that work," said Jimmy Petty, Grayson County Veterans Service Officer

The Grayson County Veterans Services receives nearly 60 million dollars a year in VA Federal Benefits, including disability, education, and health care benefits.

Roughly 70% of veterans in Grayson County come back from
combat with a disability, including post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can affect their work and their relationships.

"It cut ties with family, its cut ties with friends, its cut ties with relationships, and it's mostly been a lack of understanding" said Blevins.

Blevins says that can lead soldiers down a dark road. In the last two years, the army has confirmed 185 suicides for non-active duty soldiers and 256 suicides for active duty soldiers.

"I think that PTSD is the culprit," said Bob Hillerby.

Bob Hillerby is a Vietnam Veteran who battled PTSD for 40 years, now he's an active member of a counseling group that helps veterans work through their problems

"Because they've been exposed to a very abnormal situation in the war zone. And now all of a sudden they're turned loose in civilian life and say ok you're safe everything's good, go on about your business. And it's not that simple," said Hillerby.

As part of a doctor's evaluation, Blevins was asked to list all the soldiers he had seen killed.

"It felt more a slap in the face to have to fill something like that out," said Blevins. "My family really doesn't have an understanding of the scars that warriors come back with. They see the side effects, they don't see the root cause of it."

"There's no way on earth that you could understand what that's like to live in a situation where the next step you take could be your last one," said Hillerby.

There are ways to help veterans get through these difficult hurdles.

"If you get a phone call, a text message, if they show up at your door. Make time for them. Respect them they gave so much," said Cruz.

If you or a loved one are looking for help and think the "Peer to Peer" Group is a right fit, contact: Bob Hillerby (903) 421-3941.

If you need to reach the Veterans Service Office of Grayson County, contact: Jimmy Petty (903) 813-4254.


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