The Front Lines: COVID-19 & The War In Iraq


We are in a war. A viral war with an invisible enemy that is as lethal as ever. This war has casualties: we have lost family members and close friends. Unlike any enemy we have ever faced, COVID-19 has invaded America. This enemy has caused us to be quarantined inside our homes while our nurses and doctors (or combat medics) save lives on the front lines.


I’ve been to war, it’s nothing pretty. I’ve been injured on the battlefield by an invisible enemy. A sniper shot me in my femoral artery, breaking my left leg in the process. I became a casualty of war, earning a Purple Heart in the process. Just like any veteran, I didn’t come out of the war the same way I went in. Just like life before this viral war will not be the same life we had before this enemy existed.


So let’s talk about how the two wars are similar:


POW’S - Prisoners of War


Prisoners of war are soldiers that are captured by the enemy and are held for either ransom or type of stipulation. These prisoners are held in camps and in horrible conditions. Some are held in cages and are deprived of basic human necessities like food, water, and social interaction.


Now...let’s think about the viral war we are in today. We are all quarantined at home. Suddenly, our homes are like prisons. Sure, we can venture outside but at the risk of coming into contact with the invisible enemy. People are going crazy inside of their own homes. This is the worst type of prison: you can leave but the risk of leaving is bigger than staying inside. We leave to make the necessary trips: to work, to get food, but after that it’s back home to stare at the walls inside of your own home.


Just like people do in prison, we are finding interesting ways to entertain ourselves while in our homes. I purchased Xbox gamepass to just to pass the time. Also, in my personal prison I’ve found unusual ways to stay in shape. With all of the gyms closed I have resorted to calisthenics. I’m doing pushups, situps and jumping jacks to stay in shape while at home.


Substance Abuse


According to a April 2020 repost by the Washington Post, booze sales surged by 55 percent in mid-March as people started turning to alcohol to deal with the stress, anxiety and grief brought on by isolation. Above is a diagnosis that I have from the Department of Veteran Affairs. After being injured in Iraq I was so depressed, so distraught, so discouraged that I developed a dependency to alcohol.


People are quarantined and their homes and developing their own alcohol dependency. I’ve talked to many people on the Georgia Emotional Support Line for COVID19 who tell me they are bored and drink to pass the time. Alcoholics Anonymous groups are halting all in person meetings until quarantine orders are over so many people don’t have their usual support system.


People are depressed due to being either furloughed or laid off from their jobs. People who used to resort to having a drink after a bad day are now drinking daily because every day without a job is a bad day. Before I found the proper support I used alcohol to escape reality. I was 23 years old, shot in both legs and losing my will to live. Back then alcohol was the perfect pacifier: whispering to me that everything would be ok. And just like a baby who would stop worrying when given a pacifier, alcohol seems to be a temporary fix for the problems that COVID-19 is causing.


Unemployment/Underemployment



When I got out of the Army in 2010 I filed for unemployment in the state of New York. To my surprise, I was declined. The state told me that in order to be eligible for unemployment I needed to be willing and able to work. Due to my injuries, I didn’t know what I would be eligible to do. “How could this happen to me” I thought to myself. After serving my country for years I was told that I couldn’t receive temporary financial aid until I found work.


Fast forward to 2020. A April 2020 report from NBC News states 26 million people have requested unemployment benefits since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. This viral enemy has disrupted the American economy, causing companies to temporarily shut their doors to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.


Back then I did receive some temporary relief when my VA benefits kicked in. However, when you are three months behind in every bill a small payday does nothing. It was as if someone handed me a bandaid to stop the bleeding when I was shot in my femoral artery in Iraq. I eventually got back on my feet, with help from my family.


To provide assistance during these times, the government is sending $1200 stimulus checks to people who make under $75000. Companies are also allowing people to work from home if their job duties allow them to. Many people are resorting to driving uber to make ends meet. There are many homeless veterans in the United States. I’m sure there are some who are homeless due to things out of their control. The longer this pandemic lasts, the less control we have over what will happen next in our lives.


Suicide


It’s a well known fact that 20-22 veterans a day die from suicide. I was almost one of those who would have added to this number. Every suicide has a story behind it. Coming out of the military mine was that I had lost everything. My career, my legs, my stability...gone. That was 2010 I was thinking about suicide. I battled with it again in 2017 because once again I had lost everything.


Fast forward to 2020 and look at how much people have lost/are still losing. Small business owners who put their entire lives into their business are left wondering what their lives will look like after this war. Teenagers lost their senior proms and their graduations. The moment to celebrate 4 years of homework, extra assignments, and all night study sessions has been taken away from them. The thing about suicide is that it doesn’t discriminate: age, sex, race, economic status doesn’t matter.


Dr. Lorna Breen, was medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. She committed suicide after some say she succombed to the stress of seeing so many COVID19 patients. She was infected with COVID19, but still continued to fight on the front lines to save the lives of others who were infected. She was a true soldier - hurt during this viral war by the enemy but still putting her life on the line in order to help save others who still were in harm’s way. The PTSD ultimately became too much and like many veterans suicide seemed like the only option.


Therapy




This is a video of a EMDR session from 2010. In the video the doctor is helping me mentally recover from getting shot by a sniper. My PTSD came in the form of heightened sensitivity any time I came across someone of Muslim decent. It wasn’t racism, but I couldn’t put a face on the person who had shot me so he or she could have still been out there.


When this war is over we all will need therapy. Mental, Physical, and financial therapy are going to be necessities as we come out of this. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And because of that, the soldiers who fought the war will need therapy that they have never had before. For someone that had everything stripped away from how do they recover? Is it possible to go back to living a normal life? Will the soldiers who are fighting this war come out of it the same way they went into it?


Will small business owners be able to maintain their businesses the same way they did before Covid19? Will their depression, anxiety, disappear after this is over. I live in Georgia, one of the first states to reopen in April. People have PTSD - they are afraid to go out to shop.


I was talking to a cashier at Publix and she stated every time she coughs people look at her like they want to attack her. I must admit that when I hear someone sneeze next to me I try to get as far away from them as possible. Is this our PTSD? Will we be afraid of people who show symptoms of illness? Are sneezes the new fireworks: sounds that remind us of war and cause us to react as if we were back on the front lines?



We all will get through this together. I hope you all are staying safe out there!













 

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