For Pete Osment, a former National Guardsman from Gilbert, S.C., all of his days used to look the same. First, he would take the oldest of his three daughters to school in the morning. Next, he would come home and sleep until it was time to pick up his children from school. He’d pick up his girls and then come home. Then, he would go back to bed.
“Going to sleep was just better than dealing with my problems,” Pete recalls.
His problems – chronic headaches, frequent dizziness, balance issues, depression and anxiety – most likely stemmed from multiple concussions sustained while deployed in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
“All of these things were signs I needed help, but I didn’t know where to get it.” Pete says.
Until April 2015, Pete, who had joined the Army National Guard in 1995, was still on active duty, working as a recruiter. His symptoms mounted over the years. He’d sought help from both the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital and civilian doctors. He also tried various medications and treatment options, including counseling. Nothing seemed to work.
“I tried everything over the years, but no one could figure out what was going on, and I felt like the doctors weren’t talking to each other,” Pete says. “It was very frustrating.”
He finally had to take leave from the Army because his chronic symptoms prevented him from working. He spent the next five months drifting until the wife of a veteran told him about Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative, a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on assessment and treatment for service men and women who have sustained a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury and PTSD from combat in post-9/11 conflicts. The program is largely donor-funded.Pete came to Shepherd Center in September 2015. Right away, he began working with occupational and physical therapists to address his balance and dizziness, as well as the pain in his back and joints. A speech therapist helped him work on his organizational and decision-making challenges that had been caused by an auditory processing disorder. He also learned general coping strategies.
“It was hard work,” Pete acknowledges. “It became well worth it as I started to see gradual improvements. The dizziness and balance issues improved, my headaches went away and I was in a much better mood.”
Pete also enjoyed the camaraderie and support he received from the other SHARE clients.
“We all share the same problems,” Pete says. “At home, no one understands. At Shepherd, everyone knows exactly what you are talking about. You don’t have to explain it.”
After 14 weeks at Shepherd Center, Pete returned home to South Carolina with a much better outlook on life. With guidance from SHARE, he is continuing counseling and therapy. Though his future is uncertain as he officially retires from the military, he knows he will no longer be sleeping his days away.
“SHARE got me interested in doing things again, like going to the gym or riding a bike,” Pete says. “I’m extremely happy I found the program. There is nothing like SHARE anywhere.”
In an effort to raise funds and awareness for SHARE, on March 25, a 14-member team of men will be running 1,300 miles from Boston to Atlanta. Each runner will cover 22 kilometers – a distance just over a half-marathon – every day, while wearing a 22-pound military flak jacket. The 22-pound flak jackets and 22-kilometer daily segments have significance.
“There are 22 veteran suicides every day, with over 300,000 of our heroes having been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury,” says Travis Ellis, organizer of Shepherd’s Men and the team’s only civilian. “Those numbers are still very real, and should not be accepted as the status quo. We want everyone to know that in SHARE, there is a lifesaving program that can help.”
For more information or to support Shepherd's Men, click here.
Written by Sara Baxter
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org