FROM DEVISTATION TO HOPE
Each year, more than 150,000 people voluntarily enlist in the U.S. military. These enlisted members come from all fifty states of our country. They are a diverse group of people with differing backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. The main factor that connects them to one another is their desire to serve their country, to fight for the freedom that all United States citizens enjoy.
Joel Alan McNeil was excited about his choice to serve in the United States Army and he signed up for six years. While in basic training, his dad died. Despite having to grieve this significant loss in a time of intense training, Joel made a concerted effort to finish strong and he graduated basic training with high honors. His success continued as he progressed in rank quickly.
Joel was an overcomer, but as we all know, there are some things that are extremely difficult to conquer. After being trained he was shipped off on his first tour – Iraqi Freedom in 2008 – where he served for one year. At the end of his tour he was diagnosed with PTSD and put on medication to help combat the internal war he experienced daily. While learning how to cope with his new normal of PTSD, Joel was assigned another year of training that would equip him for his next deployment to Afghanistan. He experienced situations that not only inflicted physical wounds upon him but left him with invisible wounds that worsened beneath the surface of his heart and mind. Joel was medically released from active duty and received a medical discharge from the U.S. Army. After returning home, Joel tried to reintegrate for three years but was unable to overcome his inner struggles. While Joel served his country well, there was a part of him that was left behind when he returned home. Joel’s medical treatments gave him challenges that he didn’t know how to conquer. Sadly, Joel lost hope and committed suicide.
As noted by The Ripple Effect – Helping Veterans and Families Heal, “There is a huge social issue in our country today within the Veteran community – Military Veterans make up approximately 7% of the country’s population, yet account for 20% of the overall suicide rate. This despair has been created when services, which are meant to reintegrate the veteran back into society are too difficult to navigate and are often unavailable.”
Wendy Shackley, Joel’s Gold Star Mom, has a Mission to Serve. As the founder of The Ripple Effect, her mission is “to prevent suicide and assist with the reintegration among Veterans by connecting them with resources, organizations and other Veterans that help the Veteran and their families heal.
Wendy is an instrument of hope for struggling veterans. When asked what her most rewarding experience is leading The Ripple Effect, she said, “I get to take someone who is struggling and introduce them to someone who can help. It causes a ripple effect of good. Connecting people who need help to people who can help is what’s most gratifying to me.”
Wendy chose to take a devastating situation, the loss of her son to suicide, and transform it into sustainable support for veterans who share the same challenge as her son. Through intense grief, tremendous research, committed determination, and a partnership with other community support organizations, Wendy has gained a heart of wisdom to help others to overcome what her son could not.
She encourages transitioning veterans to write or tell their story. She says, “It will help you in the moment. If you share, you will find out that people care, and they will listen. It will help you build trust for others.” She further says that “open communication stops the suicide.”
As we continued to talk, Wendy shared how employers can help their veteran employees. She said,
“Keep the communication lines open. Know the right questions to ask,
be willing to help and be patient. Trust takes time.”
For more information about Wendy’s work at The Ripple Effect, Helping Veterans and Families heal, please visit www.therippleeffectaz.org.
Do you want to learn more about the value veterans bring to the civilian workplace and how you can get prepared to be a veteran friendly employer? If so, request a free consultation here.
image courtesy Depositphotos