Published On: April 15th, 2022|740 words|2.5 min read|
Derrick Smith is the digital content manager at the Atlanta VA
Henry Howard joined the Georgia Army National Guard while in high school. Upon graduation in 1985, a recruiter assisted him in transferring to the Army. His 20-year military career began as an infantryman and he retired as a trainer from Fort Knox.
He feels his position as a trainer allowed him to hide a personal secret. “I thought I was really successful at hiding a lot of things that were going on with me mentally,” he said.
After he left the Army, he worked as a salesman which led to management as an assistant store manager. While working on the cash registers, Howard often found his body go numb and he’d lose track of time and space.
He had one episode which landed him in the emergency room. In 2018, a coworker advised him to seek help. “I had been doing my best to hide my mental health issues,” he said. “I gave Tricare a try and tried to juggle my job and problems, and failed. At this point I was ready to die.”
After losing his health coverage and experiencing additional family related predicaments, Howard turned to Atlanta VA because he felt it was his only option.
Feeling that he was being heard
“I got to a point where I said, ‘I am done.’ Then a voice told me to call the Crisis Hotline and that kind of got the ball rolling,” he said. After explaining his situation to peer support specialist Benton Willis, he started feeling as if he was being heard and that provided a confidence boost.
“Mr. Willis has walked in my shoes, and he knows how to get people to talk and share,” Howard said. “He provides some of the best guidance. In a group setting, he got me on my feet and moving to get more into a normalized way of thinking. He had a genuine care and concern for me. He promised me he would make sure I would get a call from the right person who could help me out.”
The next day, Howard received a call from a person he feels really helped him. That was Lamecia Eaddy, an Atlanta VA social worker.
“I have been transformed into a far better person.”
How mental health team can enhance Veteran’s lives
“She stayed on the phone with me for a long time,” he continued. “That allowed me to process. Then she got me in contact with a psychiatrist who prescribed me the proper medication. She provided me with coaching, counseling and support that was above reproach. She linked me up with Chaplain Coleman who steered me towards Biblical guidance, working through my issues. I felt very comfortable with Chaplain Coleman.”
“Though initially apprehensive, Mr. Howard demonstrated a high motivation for improvement by taking a chance on trusting the treatment provided by his VA mental health providers,” Eaddy said. “Seeing his smile and hearing about his progress during telehealth sessions makes serving him worthwhile. His recovery truly exemplifies how the collaborative partnership between a Veteran and his mental health team can enhance the life of the individual.”
“My message to Veterans would be, Don’t stop, don’t give up.”
“I want so much to let VA authorities know how much of an impact its services have had on me,” Howard said. “After all, I would not be alive today if not for the efforts of the Veterans Crisis Line, Ms. Eaddy, Mr. Willis and the mental health team assigned to me.”
Howard receives most of his care from the Stockbridge VA Clinic and is committed to his health plan to serve as an ambassador for what he calls, “My VA.”
“Here I am today,” he added. “I try not to miss any of my sessions or meetings. I’m happy in the state I am in and the direction I am going. I have been transformed into a new person, a far better person than I was five or 10 years ago. My message to Veterans would be don’t stop, don’t give up. Seek help from others so you can get to that next level in the VA chain.”
One does not have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to call. The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans and service members in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.