Rush is proud to support veterans of the U.S. military by providing both employment opportunities and the specialized care many vets need. One of them is Sergio Alfaro, an Army veteran and Epic technical trainer at Rush University Medical Center. In a powerful testimonial, Alfaro openly shares how a tour of duty forever changed his life and mental health and how Rush and other organizations help him cope with his new normal.
As a veteran of the armed forces, I volunteered years of my life for this country, and the impact of it has left lasting marks that have carried on past a decade now.
It may not be difficult to grasp that even one year in Iraq serving as a medic for the Army has left me with experiences that I grapple with to this day. What is harder to understand is the devastation that can be left in the wake of battling with mental illness.
My family and I have lived with post-traumatic stress disorder for the past 15 years of my life, which has also resulted in a major depressive disorder for the past seven years. My existence has been put at risk not just at war, but now at home as I struggle to reintegrate myself into civilian life.
These illnesses are not badges of honor that I wear upon my chest. Nor are they marks of shame that I must keep hidden from the world. Even though speaking about this leaves me feeling vulnerable, I understand now that learning to accept and remain open about my struggles are vital traits that have helped me on my road to recovery.
It is comparable to when spring finally arrives and you can throw open those windows, shedding light on the winter you were living in as you hunkered down and waited out the cold.
Thankfully, there are organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the Road Home Program here at Rush, Home Base at Massachusetts General Hospital and the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs that have assisted with my return to normalcy.
Working here at Rush also helps me navigate my new normal. As an Epic technical trainer, I help increase others’ efficiency with the tools Rush provides their staff. Through collaboration with key subject matter experts, we continue to find new ways of providing efficient methods of using Epic medical records systems.
Less time spent documenting in the electronic medical record means more time with the patient, delivering quality care. Not all roles at a hospital have direct contact with patients, but everyone does contribute to the overall patient experience. I am proud to be a part of the team that has such a positive impact on patient care and the culture of excellence here at Rush.
Some of our greatest strengths as humans are the social dynamics we engage in daily. We test the bounds of our values and morals as we encounter new people and experiences. The feedback we get from others helps to inform us of our surrounding reality, and also if the behaviors we show are appropriate for the settings we find ourselves in.
Is it no surprise then when veterans, or anyone suffering from mental health issues, may seek out solitude and isolation, when the worldview we grapple with may be a result of an experience from years ago?
To face what is wrong with ourselves so starkly can potentially feed into the harmful cycles that further entrench us in willful ignorance and suffering. It doesn’t help that presently there remains a harmful stigma to admitting problems with mental health.
Some may think I am crazy, others that I am a war hero. In truth, I am neither. I am merely a survivor and a human being with newly revived hopes for my future. My time in therapy and focus on self-improvement helped me get here.
I did one of the best things you can do, which is seek to invest in yourself. Do this by getting help for the issues you battle. It may cost time, money or more, but the question I have had to pose continuously to myself in the midst of all this was: Do I want to live?
My answer? Yes, I do. To maintain my best life, I need to get help with PTSD and depression. I am glad I do it, and I hope you will get any help you need as well.
If you are a military veteran in need of support, please visit the Road Home Program website for more information. You can also call the Veteran Crisis Center at (800) 273-8255 and press 1. If you are in need of immediate help, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255 (TALK), available 24 hours every day.