Written by Juan J Manteiga, US Marine Corps (FRM) | Editted by Jamie Goldstein, US Army, (FRM)
The residual effects of serving in the United States Military range from mental, physical, and emotional impacts. Fortunately for those who have experienced combat, social awareness, acceptance, and treatment for these issues has become more and more mainstream.
Serving in the military is filled with innumerable risks and challenges, to which intensive training, discipline, and perseverance are ideal antidotes for alleviating said challenges. However, and as many consider it a silent killer, mental health in general, and more specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and depression can no longer be considered silent.
Service member are trained and expected to endure pain and adversity for the sake of accomplishing their mission. Too often though, those same service members remained silent in the face of mental health issues as a result of that training and those expectations. The negative and adverse impact this has on their personal and professional lives are staggering.
How does resiliency look like?
We must open up to truly listening to the screams for help from our heroes, while resisting the urge to want to cast judgement and alienate them.
John W. McJunkin V, served in the United States Marine Corps as both an enlisted and officer type. and has been diagnosed with various mental maladies; most notably TBI, PTSD, and depression. He is now 100% and permanently disabled and even further, has been deemed unemployable due to his various mental health diagnoses.
Transitioning from service can be extremally difficult, especially after serving in austere environments as John did in Afghanistan. In John’s case, transition was not only made difficult by his own mental demons, but by the outward and external environment of the real world, family life, and all the other realities of life after the military
Becoming a “mustang”
As a young Enlisted Marine, John experienced a minor setback in his career: losing rank and benefits due to an alcohol related incident. It is often said that you can judge the nature of one’s character by how they react in the face of adversity. John exemplifies this proverb.
When I took command of the unit John was in, I immediately knew that John was a highly motivated self-starter, and a competent Marine. While under my leadership, he stood out above the rest of his contemporaries, and in contrast to his past issues with professional conduct, served as a real example of how one can and should react in the face of adversity.
It would have been very easy for him to lose motivation and the desire to seek self-improvement, but he did the exact opposite.
John was ultimately recommended for, and accepted to the Marine Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program which would help him transition from enlisted Marine to Officer. John completed the program, earned his degree, and was Commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
John went on to become a leader of Marines with a full commission. Unfortunately, the nature of his service positioned him to see and experience the ugliness of war and the realities of psychological trauma.
John was ultimately discharged in 2017 under Other Than Honorable Conditions as the result of another alcohol related incident.
Transitioning into civilian life
John’s transition from service member to civilian was made harder than it needed to be by his home life. His marriage was riddled with toxicity, mistrust, animosity, and an overall negativity.
John’s daughter was a major source of motivation that enabled him to endure daily life. However, recent events at home have turned his world into a tumultuous reality.
In October of 2022, John and his wife were involved in a domestic assault incident. According to a report by Seymour, Connecticut’s Police Department, John was the victim of the assault, not his wife. Regardless, John was forced to forced to leave home without his wife and daughter.
Having nowhere else to go, John is currently living in his vehicle while his service-related disability compensation is subsidizing the home that he is not permitted to reside in; at least not until the criminal and civil legal process plays itself out. Moreover, since John’s psychological disabilities due to military service have rendered him unemployable.
John cannot afford his own temporary residence or legal representation. John currently volunteers at a local golf course and, while living out of his vehicle, has taken to social media to cry for help
While some may consider calls for help on social media unhelpful or even harmful, it is equally important to understand the catalyst for why people do what they do. I have heard John’s calls for help, and as a former superior officer of his, colleague, and friend, the least I can do is to attempt to articulate his concerns in an effort to solicit help for our disabled veterans.
John’s desired end state is to request and receive legal support from any source that is willing to serve as an advocate for his cause; while being able to navigate the unruly nature of his marriage and perhaps more importantly, the emotional and physical safety and security of his daughter.
John considers himself a victim of domestic abuse as well as a victim of trauma related to his time in service. It is time that we listen to the echoes that resonate form the deafening silence that lives within the psyche of our veterans.
When one of our own is yelling for help, we should embrace the fact that John has been able to overcome the stigma that mental health brings about, and instead of staying silent and internally destructive, we have someone that truly needs salient and actionable support.
It is not sufficient to pretend that we care and offer outreach as a gesture. We must act and actually help John and others that have not yet exhibited the intestinal fortitude and vulnerability, while seeking self-improvement via an external support network.