By Elizabeth Aslakson, as published in “Military Families” September 12, 2019
Former Spc. Chris Blevins, war veteran, has a message for other veterans, military members and families struggling with mental health issues, especially suicide: There is hope.
Blevins’ 14 years of service as an Army military policeman included a tour in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007 and Iraq in 2009. He thought of his job as rewarding, but Blevins details how a series of traumatic events and setbacks sent him down a path of depression, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, to a moment he thought his only solution was suicide.
Causes of depression
Blevins states challenges began when he started experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder caused by an incident during his first deployment. He says he was not aware that he had PTSD, but he could not sleep and began drinking. He was consuming two bottles of whiskey a day when he realized he had a problem.
Blevins says he sought professional help and tried a succession of prescriptions that did not address the root of his problems. He explains the pills made him numb, “To the point I did not care if anyone lived or died.” He decided to wean himself off, going without medication or professional help.
At the same time, Blevins says he was struggling with a back injury. He was receiving treatment, but as with his mental health struggles, nothing seemed to help. His physician suggested surgery. Worried about the risks, he turned down the procedure.
Unable to return to his job because of his injury, he began processing out of the military in 2017. Blevins had assumed he could medically retire. However, he explains that he was denied a medical board because he did not proceed with the surgery, therefore leaving the Army with little financial security.
Still optimistic, Blevins and his family settled in what he calls “veteran friendly Texas.” Unfortunately, they moved just as Hurricane Harvey hit. Blevins states they were dealt a financial blow. Unable to get assistance from the federal emergency management agency and with his savings gone, they were left living in a hotel room.
Blevins recalls his frustration of not being able to provide for his family. He reached out to numerous organizations, but none could give the help he required. He needed a job.
No way out
He says his mother told him about the Veterans of Foreign Wars program called, “Unmet Needs.” He applied for a grant, forgetting about the application while trying to care for his family. Despondent with the lack of opportunities, symptoms of PTSD haunted him again.
Blevins describes a day in October 2017 when he could, “no longer see a way out.” He had driven to the hotel he was living in, parked the car and pulled his pistol out of the glove compartment. He said he thought to himself, “If I kill myself, at least my family will get my life insurance and they can eat.”
“In that moment, I did not see any other options. I saw it as a gift of love I could give my family,” Blevins said.
At that moment, his then fiancée walked out of the hotel with their son. Blevins says he could not let them see what he was about to do and put his weapon away, and went inside to join his family. As he walked in, his fiancée handed him a letter with a check from the VFW’s “Unmet needs” program inside.
Blevins describes that the VFW gave him hope in a time of crisis.
“Just a little bit of money to buy food for my family and pay some bills, brought my head above water,” he said. “Instead of having narrow vision, I could finally see possibilities and reanalyze the situation.”
The way forward
Blevins credits the VFW for helping him “regain control of his life.” He now lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his family and is a U.S postal carrier. He is also a full-time undergraduate at the University of Texas San Antonio. He adds that his hope is to transfer into St. Mary’s law program and focus on family law.
Previous Capt. Lynn Rolf, also an Army MP from May 1997 to December 2004, is the VFW’s director of programs. He explained their mission of, “Fighting for all vets and their families,” is instrumental in the creation of Veterans Affairs.
“The VFW is the VA’s biggest fan and biggest critic … and our service officers are highly trained and accredited in helping veterans receive their benefits,” he said.
Rolf also describes how the VFW pushes for legislation in congress and works to “break down the walls.” He clarified, “Veterans do not always know what programs and benefits exist … The VFW works to connect and inform veterans of resources.”
Rolf stated VA statistics reveal, “16 out of 20 vets that commit suicide, never went to the VA.” He encourages veterans to get involved with their local VFW so they can connect with resources available in their communities, as well as through the VA. In addition, he emphasizes the value of networking with peers, having a support system and potential links to jobs.
“With 6,500 posts worldwide, found wherever region the U.S. military has been in, help is available.”
Blevins adds that one of the challenges in the military community is overcoming mental health stigmas, and he understands service members do not want to be a burden to their unit, peers and families.
“This is why I want to share my story … If I can save one life, it is worth it,” he said.