Veteran Gives Insight on Suicide Prevention
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2010 When retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido was medically evacuated from Iraq in August 2004, he knew tough challenges were ahead, as he’d have to learn to live without his left leg.
Retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido talks about the psychological struggles he faced after being wounded in Iraq to an audience of more than 1,000 government health-care professionals at the 2010 Defense Department/Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Conference, Jan. 11, 2010, in Washington, D.C. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But as he sat in his hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston, Texas, he began to realize that recovering from his physical disability was only a small part of that challenge.
“When my leg was taken away … I sat in the hospital bed not knowing what was happening to me mentally,” said Pulido, who medically retired after a 19-year Army career. “I remember those three weeks at Brooke where I thought about the fact that as positive as I am, I hit that dark place, and those hidden wounds were the ones that would cripple me at times when I just didn’t understand.”
Post-traumatic stress had taken form, and depression and anxiety began to take their toll. Suddenly, suicidal thoughts began to surface, the Oklahoma native said.
Pulido shared the story of his struggles yesterday with an audience of more than 1,000 military and other government agency health-care workers and officials gathered here for the 2nd Annual Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.
The weeklong conference began yesterday and goes through Jan. 14 to give department health-care professionals insight to each organization’s programs and best practices in suicide prevention. Nearly 100 veterans who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, such as Pulido, are expected to share their stories of survival.
During his initial weeks of recovery from his Oct. 1, 2004, amputation surgery, Pulido had plenty of time to think, he said. He often thought about the day his Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb, the soldiers who saved his life and how his Army career abruptly came to an end. Also, he said, he found joy in his wife and young daughter, but was troubled with how he would support them.
“I didn’t know how I was going to provide for my family, and that was the hardest thing for me to struggle with as I began this journey,” he said. “When they took my leg, they took so much away.”
Still, the darker days of combat in Iraq were behind him. However, the images of death and destruction, as he described it, lingered in his mind, and he soon realized they always would, he said.
Other reminders came to him during his rehabilitation, but not because he was learning to walk with a prosthetic leg. He was surrounded by other servicemembers learning to deal with their injuries, and as he watched them struggle, he worried that their sacrifice and service to the nation would be forgotten, he said.
“We have to care for them when they come back from war and make sure they are not forgotten,” he said of his fellow wounded warriors.
Pulido stressed that his is just one of many stories. He reminded the audience of the importance of their support in making veterans’ lives successful after returning from war. And although their lives have changed, he said, chaplains, counselors and health-care providers do well to show veterans that there’s still much to live for.
Because of the care of his providers, family and with spiritual faith, Pulido began his journey of “challenge, triumph and change,” he said.
“Challenge is sitting on the battlefield almost losing my life,” he said. “Triumph is taking the first step after amputation, and change is living with the dark wounds of war and learning that with the right support systems in place, I can truly have a great life.
“This conference is what it’s all about. … Together, we can come together to bring change to how we take care of our servicemen and women,” he said.
Pulido now spends much of his time advocating for wounded veterans, specifically in the areas of mental health and ortho-prosthetic technology.
The intervention he experienced helped to put him on the path to recovery and became his building block for understanding the mental wounds of war, he said. Through his work, he added, Pulido hopes to ensure mental health advocacy leaves no one behind on the battlefield.