Panic Disabled Army Veteran Seeks Grant Help To Keep Her Family Together
by Gwendolyn Casteel Richie
(Guyton, GA, USA)
The happiest day of my life, my wedding day
I have had many battles through my life with domestic battery and I prayed for so long that something would come my way and open the door to a new future for me.
I am the mother of two beautiful children, and at the age of 32, I had decided that I was going to step out of my comfort zone of dental assisting, which I had done for 10 years, and join the Army.
I knew in my heart that I could do this, and with the support of my two children, I signed up for active duty Army. To my surprise I passed my ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test.
I was ready. After being a punching bag for over eight years, I just knew this couldn't be any worse. I left for Ft. Jackson, in S.C., and from the moment I got off the bus, I knew I was in for it.
I was screamed at and called fat and pushed to the limit. One week into my in-processing there, I was told I was going to be transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
From the moment I arrived at that unit, I wished I would go back to Ft. Jackson. Every day that I was there, I was made fun of for being fat. When I enlisted, I was 5'10", and I weighed 174 lbs.
Little did they know that just a few years back, I was a model, and weighed 118 lbs, but the abusive relationship that I was in made me lose hope and lose respect for myself.
I was strong, I pushed through the humiliation, I ran every chance I had and I never let them see me cry. I started basic in November of 2008. After my transfer to my new unit, I pushed myself, day in and day out.
I began having horrible pains in my hip and groin areas on both sides, with the left being worse. But I refused to quit.
There were two Drill Sergeants (DS) that saw the pain all over my face. One was from my company, and one was from another company.
During the final three weeks of training, I was taken to the CTMC (Consolidated Troop Medical Clinic). I was diagnosed with bilateral femoral neck hip fractures. I was devastated.
They put me on crutches the day before I was suppose to qualify my weapon, and I went to my head DS, the one who made me go get evaluated, and I told him the news.
I broke down and cried and told him that I could handle it. I begged him to let me qualify my weapon. He told me I couldn't use crutches on the range, and although I could hardly walk, I agreed.
When it came time for me to qualify, it was freezing in January in Missouri. I was in more pain than I ever imagined, and my 1st SGT looked at me and said "you sure you want to do this?"
With tears welling up in my eyes, I held my shoulders back, handed my battle buddy my crutches, and I looked at my 1st Sgt. and said yes 1st Sgt.
I had to walk to the next open spot, which was almost to the end of the range, with nothing but my weapon. My head DS was telling me I didn't have to do it.
With many tears, and in the most painful positions I could have imagined, I finished my rounds, and was told to head back.
As I got to the clearing barrel to clear my weapon, my 1st Sgt., took my weapon and cleared it for me. My battle was waiting there with my crutches.
As I rounded the corner to go wait in the holding building, my Commander called my name.
I turned around, again holding my shoulders back and completely unaware of what he was going to tell me, he said, "You did good private. You passed. Now go sit down and don't move."
I was in so much pain, but I passed and the pain didn't matter. I knew that since I had reached that point in training, if I was forced to go to rehab, I could come back at that point and not have to start over.
I kept trying to push myself to walk, and I begged the doctors at the CTMC to let me try my final PT test. With much hesitation, they agreed.
I passed my push-ups, which were horribly painful. I passed my sit-ups, and I was determined to finish my run. Every step I took, the pain got worse, I still didn't quit.
My DSs jogged and walked with me, telling me it wasn't worth it. But to me, it was. Even if I didn't pass, I would finish. As I reached the finish line, I was four minutes over my time. I collapsed.
My commander told me to get on the truck. It was at that moment that I knew I would never be a soldier. I was taken to the CTMC and then to the hospital for an MRI. I was done.
I left the CTMC in a wheelchair and was sent on con leave. I ended up spending a total of four months in a wheelchair because both hips were fractured.
For a month after I got back, I had to stay at the unit, instead of being transferred to the WTRP (Women's Trauma Recovery Program) unit.
During that month, I was humiliated daily. I was called horrible names. I was pushed out in front of new privates and their DSs would tell them that I was in that chair because I "pissed off a DS."
For a month I was made to get myself up the stairs, into my unit, and was given minimal therapy because of the damage.
The final three months, I went from the WTRP to the med board because I had lost all motivation and I was physically and mentally broken.
The DSs at the med board unit only took me to rehab when I fit into their schedule, or if there was room on the bus. They made me push myself everywhere we went, and I ended up messing up my shoulder due to the hills I had to climb in the chair.
I was treated like a criminal, always being searched, because of a previous person in a wheelchair that would bring contraband back into the unit. I had never been treated so horribly in all my life.
In September 2009, I finally came home, feeling like I had failed the world. I began my own therapy, through no help of the VA, because I wanted nothing to do with the Army anymore.
I trained and trained until I was back down to 135lbs, and I began dating a man that I knew from years ago that was and still is an active duty Army soldier, and who is about to go on his second tour to Afghanistan in December.
I began coaching my daughter's softball team in March of 2010, and in May 2010, I married my current husband, then he was off to Afghanistan.
My children and I moved from Florida to Georgia, where he is stationed at Hunter Army Airfield. I attempted college, which isn't going so well. I have had to take breaks, and I have taken a drastic fall in my physical and mental health.
The nerve in my spine, that runs down my leg into my foot, causes me so much pain that I have difficulties sitting, standing, or doing anything that consists of anything other that lying on my stomach.
I have fallen into a severe depression which has lead to me being hospitalized for almost a week due to bleeding into my stomach from ulcers.
I have attempted four jobs since my move here in December 2010.
The pain in my left leg has caused me to place more pressure on my right leg and cause more back issues because I am unable to walk correctly.
I now have severe muscle atrophy in both legs. My left hip dislocates at any given moment while attempting to walk.
The pain continues to get worse. It has now triggered panic disorder. I have panic attacks at least three or our times a week. Four weeks ago, I had a severe panic attack due to my hip giving out and the pain associated with that.
I felt like I was having a heart attack and I passed out in my garage. My husband was at work, and my children were at school.
I don't know how long I lay on the floor in my garage, but when I finally came to, there was blood on the ground from my arm and my leg, and my hip was killing me. I was really dizzy and my ankle was swollen.
I called my husband, took some pain medication, and when I woke up, my husband was wrapping up my wounds. I am unable to work because of the severe pain, and I am not allowed to drive due to the panic attacks. A week ago, I ran off the road into a ditch due to a panic attack.
As a dental assistant in GA., I was paid $18-$22 per hour, working at least 40 hours a week. Needless to say, I am the reason for the financial crisis in my family right now.
We are about to be evicted, and we can't get assistance because every avenue we look to, they look at my husband's gross income. They don't pay any attention to the fact that he has allotments coming out to pay his truck payment and medical insurance for the family.
Our rent alone is half of his monthly pay, and our electric is sky high with two teens in this house. I feel like my family blames me for barely being able to eat.
I try not to eat, so that there is food in the house for the kids. I now weigh 119 lbs and I am very weak. I am begging for someone to help us.
I never expected my life at the age of 36 to be this way. We bought my daughter a car a year ago, thinking things were going to work out.
Soon after I came home, I bought a new truck, and my husband bought a new truck because I was bringing in $1500 to $1800 bi-weekly, with monthly bonuses.
Now we have this house where our rent is $1250 a month. We have shut-off notices for just about everything, and now we are getting calls about repossessing our vehicles.
I never dreamed that wanting to fight for my country, and be someone that my family could be proud of, would cost me my life.
My husband stays away because he can't stand to see me so depressed. My daughter is embarrassed of my depression issues. And my son just wants to take care of me.
Because I have been medically taken out of work, we are about $10,000 behind in bills.
I just don't want to lose my whole family because of illnesses that I cannot control.
The nightmares, the depression and the pain make my life feel pointless.
If we could get a grant, it would allow us the time to get caught up and for my disabilities to kick into place.
I have been told it will be roughly six months for the VA and four months to find out about Social security disability.
Please help our family from complete failure. You are my last hope!