It was 2009 and I was a member of an Army Special Mission Unit. I had spent the last eight years at war. From Afghanistan to Iraq to the Horn of Africa, I had taken part in nearly 600 combat operations.

My life was filled with purpose, with meaning, with adventure. I was constantly challenged and able to overcome those challenges. Years of warfare at the highest level had given me a feeling of invincibility, like I was the best of the best and that I could do anything I wanted anytime I wanted.

I lived for the next deployment.

But then, as quickly as it had all started, it stopped. I made an error in judgement while on my last deployment and was asked to leave the organization.

A life turned upside down

A year later, in 2010, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was, why nothing satisfied me, why I was in pain, why I wasn’t sleeping, why all I wanted to do was tear myself down, why I felt utterly useless after so many years of success.

I was newly divorced and surgery had left me addicted to prescription pain pills. I took sleeping pills for insomnia and I drank nearly every day to chase away the pain and demons that lived inside me.

That’s when I hit rock bottom, pushing away almost everyone in my life to distance myself. And I felt like I didn’t or shouldn’t matter to anyone, like my time was over, and the best thing for me to do was to go away forever.

The choice to live

Thankfully, that day I made a choice: a choice to not give up, a choice to live.

Giving up would have been the easy way out, and I had never taken the easy route. While it may have taken away my pain, it would cause pain for my family. So, through the encouragement of others, I reached out to a doctor for help figuring out a path forward.

After many visits, tests and back-and-forth communication, I was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress, insomnia and depression. The doctor educated me on my condition and linked my feelings and behaviors to those injuries.

This diagnosis had a profound impact on my mental health, or rather, my understanding of my mental health. I realized that while my injuries were not my fault, my actions and my recovery were absolutely my responsibility.

The hard work of healing

Everything I had accomplished in my military career came from hard work and this would be no different. The next few years would prove to be a challenge like none I had faced. I was attending regular counseling and medical appointments. I focused on getting back in shape and stopped taking the pain meds.

Things were slowly improving.

I was prescribed medication to help with my mental health issues. Given my history with prescription drugs, I reluctantly accepted – and was surprised by the results. I felt better – my highs and lows seemed to level out, and this helped me to become more focused.

Things were looking up when the unthinkable happened. When renewing my prescription, the pharmacy made an error and quadrupled my prescribed dose. Within days I was spiraling out of control and afraid of the thoughts I was having.

In a panic, I reached out to my doctor who asked me to check the label on my pill bottle.

During the weeks that followed, I was slowly weaned off the medication and visited a counselor regularly. The mistake was unfortunate, but it did give me some clarity. I would no longer rely on someone or something to be responsible for my well-being.

Always be working on you

I knew that I would have to double down on my own efforts to heal myself and to better understand my issues. The solutions I would seek would be tangible life changes, not quick fixes.

In 2015, I retired from service. Life today isn’t perfect. But, through working with my counselor, Veteran groups, my spouse and a lot of introspection, I have the tools I need to overcome challenges.

There are so many resources and organizations for struggling Veterans. The first step is finding the courage to seek help.

Here’s the bottom line: Always be working on you, keep pushing forward and remind yourself every day that you can and will get better.

Find ways to help a Veteran in crisis and prevent Veteran suicide at BeThereForVeterans.com. If you’re going through a tough time and need support, the Veterans Crisis Line is available anytime, day or night.

You can even call if you’re concerned about a fellow Veteran. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or text 838255.


Chris VanSant spent more than 20 years in the Army and served as an operator in the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta with nearly 600 combat operations, including the capture of Saddam Hussein. After his career ended, he dealt with the effects of PTSD, TBI, and a dependence on pain medication after a neck injury. He has recovered and is now COO of a company which manufactures body armor and tactical equipment for the military and law enforcement. He is a board member for the All Secure Foundation, which assists special operations active-duty and combat Veterans and their families in recovery of posttraumatic stress.

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13 Comments

  1. Dave July 10, 2021 at 3:57 am

    I had a doc tell me once that since I refused to pour water up into my sinus cavity that she would “not assist me with anything!”.
    This was an Indian doctor who was trying to get me to use a netti pot to rinse my sinus, the initial reason I had gone into see her was for TBI evaluation.

    She said there was nothing she would do for me if I was unwilling to help myself, and she got up and ushered me out the door. A scheduled hour long appointment time frame, reduced to 20 minutes.
    Fortunately she didn’t work for the Spokane VA after that time, I didn’t snitch on her about that one although I could very well have.

    She is the only doctor I’ve ever had an issue with in my nearly 25 year connection.
    Yeah, the pharmacy has screwed up my mail out meds a couple times but nothing major!!!

  2. Ricardo Lugo Ramos July 9, 2021 at 11:09 pm

    Those military warriors that took there call seriously; thank you for your service. Remember we took an oath when we commence are journey; as a warrior of are nation (USA). God takes it seriously when we invoke a oath to serve God, family and country. This connect us thru training and are military carrier; to a special spiritual dimension; in which we will gain defense knowledge and guidance for a excellent outcome of Justice for are nation. There fore we must seek for excellent in what we was call fore. The training and military war experience that we posses in life; will help us to overcome in any situation presented to us. This could produce a feeling of invincibility; but proper intelligent management; with a humble spirit can take you to pursuit a emocional stability in life. The vision of training and military war experience is to expand are capacity to tackle any combat or civilian challenge in are life time. We are train to win any combat situation; all depends in how we manage the combat knowledge and training in are life. The VA Medical and staff professional are a resource; that God has permitted us to have; to serve those soldier that need a helping hang in life. Don’t be afraid to seek the help; that they train for healing the wounds of war scenario left in are life. So God help us in the pursuit of happiness; during are military carrier and during are civilian life time. God Bless America.

  3. Nancy July 9, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    I am grateful for each and everyone of you.

    Thank you for your service to this great country – the United States of America!

  4. David Steppe July 9, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    Been there with you all I too am going through alot dealing with the Veteran Affairs it hurt real bad when you devoted your life to this country and the world turns there back on you.

  5. Todd Fox July 9, 2021 at 12:19 am

    It’s always the same whether you have brain injuries or not you do your 20 or less you think you served your country or you have served your country accomplish the mission and they retire you and then you’re nothing you feel totally worthless they treat you that way

  6. OWEN GASCOIGNE July 7, 2021 at 10:37 pm

    SOME SUCCEED AND SOME DON’T (OR PERHAPS REALLY DO NOT WANT TO) THAT IS IT IN A NUTSHELL.

    • Joshua Townsend July 9, 2021 at 3:57 am

      The VA has tried to kill me 3 times. I have had 13 Primary Care Doctors in 12 years, and it took a lawyer fighting for 4 years to get my benefits. The farther I got from the VA the better my life is. They are more concerned about finding marijuana in your system than helping you. Here take these pills, they are safe, they are prescribed by a doctor. Are you addicted? Good, now I rip them away and you turn to Heroine! Ha ha ha, I am the VA aren’t I evil.

  7. Mel Stiffler July 7, 2021 at 4:50 pm

    I’d been diagnosed with MH issues. I was given some therapeutic medication. It wasn’t as therapeutic as I was hoping. Instead I suffered seizures, never had them before. I managed for a while on my own, just going to the VA for regular checkups and medication. I was in the HUD-VASH program and after a few years and some inner meddling I was removed from my apartment without a court hearing. I got another apartment on my own, the Veterans outreach program wouldn’t help, they basically ignored me. I went to the MH clinic to get some help and told them that I would do whatever was asked to get “better” except take the previous prescriptions they had once prescribed me. I was told if I wasn’t going to take medication they wouldn’t help me. That was about 4 years ago. I’m still homeless, I still won’t go back to those meds, but I’m going to try to get some help again. It seems like they let me slip through the cracks of they’re system. No one ever called or inquired as to my condition, wether I was dead it alive. Before this they wouldn’t let anything stop them from checking on me. There are a lot of details I’ve ok left out because I don’t have the time at the moment. But I will be going to mental health soon and if they tell me they can’t/won’t help me unless I take what they prescribe I’ll be sure to write down they’re names for the IG.

    • Arthur K. Weinberger July 8, 2021 at 6:19 pm

      Owen that is so true. One should never give up. This is especially true if are somewhat cognitively or mentally able. Today we have sources readily available. Take your recovery slowly, each and every day. Many succeeded in-spite of odds and others will follow. If you slip and want to quit, read about someone who did not and was successful. We as humans have all had some degree of failure, depression,pain and other setbacks. reach out to friends, family, religious or veterans organizations.
      Owen you appear to have succeeded; I am proud of you. MSC(SS) Arthur (Yogy) Weinberger USN Ret.

  8. Melinda July 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    You managed to piss me off. I sought help in the service and got Involuntarily Discharged and NO DISABILITY. It was claimed that my mh issues were so severe I couldn’t perform the duties of my position and rank and here you are still serving for another five years AFTER you admit your mh issues!!! Because of this I’m in full agreement with DISGrunt.

  9. Reginald Allen July 6, 2021 at 9:42 pm

    Mr. VanSant,
    Thank You for your service to Our Great Nation, your experiences with all to prevalent mental health issues concerning American Veterans, and your courage, choice, and non-denial in seeking mental health care/treatments.
    It is so devestating an illness for so many veterans and civilian souls to come to terms surrounding these issues.
    Choosing life with intervention is much better than denial and the alternatives.
    Welcome back and Welcome home.

  10. DISGrunt July 6, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    As a special education monkey, I find this to be offensively disingenuous.

    • Arthur K. Weinberger July 8, 2021 at 6:22 pm

      Great comment.

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