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Helping our heroes heal: Resources for military veterans

For many veterans, the battle doesn't end when they come back home. In fact, living back stateside can be the hardest part of a deployment.

TAMPA, Fla. — We've come a long way but the truth is, there can never be too many resources to help our military service members transition and thrive once they return home.

The mental struggles a veteran lives with can be very different than traumas and disorders civilians experience. That's why Diego F. Hernandez, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist dedicates much of his practice to the specific needs of veterans.

"Combat veterans go in with the intent of completing the mission with the expectation that they’re going to handle what happens afterwards so it becomes kind of a trap, which is different than being hit by a truck," Hernandez said.

In most civilian instances, the trauma they experienced was unexpected and sudden. For military servicemen and women, they sign up to endure danger, put on that armor and face battle.

Taking off the physical armor is one thing, but breaking down the emotional walls can be much more difficult.

Hernandez added, "We train our military to perform in those conditions and environments but we don’t train them and destress them to operate in the civilian environment."

In their own words

Daniel Rodriguez is a former combat veteran who served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He knew he was facing mental struggles while on active duty and sought counseling.

"As soon as you feel those sensations, thoughts, those feelings, those dreams, it’s important to reach out as soon as possible," Rodriguez said.

Nowadays, he works as an outreach coordinator at the Clearwater Vet Center. He gets to meet and connect with other veterans and encourage others to participate in positive activities which could mean limiting your media consumption and practice self-care.

"To this day I still seek counseling for things I deal with from my combat tours," he said.

Gabriel Saffold is a former Air Force Intelligence Officer who shares the same message as Rodriguez, but his journey was different.

Saffold was deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he resisted seeking help because others had it worse and he felt guilty.

"I suffered, needlessly really, I suffered and because I’m an intelligence officer, it’s not one of those jobs Hollywood says is allowed to have PTSD," Saffold said.

Eventually, he hit rock bottom when he was unable to manage his emotions at work.

"When I realized I might be a threat to someone else, I turned on myself, that was very scary and I just walked into the first available thing I could imagine," he said.

One counseling session was all it took. He was hooked on healing.

"Anytime you even passively think, I shouldn’t even be here, there’s no point, I should end myself, that’s the time. Drop everything and go," Saffold said.

Resources for veterans