Atlanta programs helps veterans cope with 'hidden' wounds

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It's been 7 years since Jarrad Turner had to leave the U.S. Army behind, after being badly injured on his second tour in Iraq. 

But, the 42-year old has never let go of the feeling of brotherhood he found in combat.

"When we say we had each other's back, we really meant, I have your back,” Turner says. “Till death."

The former medic says his time on the front lines was, in some ways, the best time in his life.

“But at the same time, it was also, it was tough,” Turner says.

Because, when the Staff Sergeant and father of three was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and medically-separated from the Army, he felt lost.

"You don't just come home and flip a switch,” he says.  “That’s not how it works."

Turner felt like he’d lost not just his career, but his sense of belonging.

"The reality is my brothers are still down-range, and I'm back home and I'm supposed to be feeling safe,” he says. “And it doesn't work that way. It was a lot of anger, a lot of self-doubt, a lot of depression, a lot of frustration."

Seven years later, Turner has found himself again, and a new brotherhood, in Shepherd's Men, a group of current and former military members and civilians running to raise money for the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which Turner says helped him rebuild his life.

A VA doctor referred him to the program in 2012, which is designed for post-9/11 conflict veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and anxiety.

Turner was experiencing many of these issues.

"I had memory issues, stuttering, balance issues,” he remembers.  “I started having a heck of lot of problems when it came to sleep. At one point in time I was on 5 sleep meds.  That's not living."

Jackie Breitenstein, SHARE'S clinical program manager, says the program was created in 2008 to reach out to military veterans who might be falling through the cracks.

"When we think of those men and women who are protecting us, we think of brave, bold, courageous, strong,” Breitenstein says.

What we don’t see, she says, are the hidden wounds of war.

"A lot of them have had recent suicide attempts prior to coming to us. So there is this sense of loss, and hopelessness,” she says.

Turner, who now works for the Wounded Warrior Project, says the SHARE Military Initiative helped him realize he needed help, after years of denial.

"It validated one that, hey, yes there is a problem,” Turner remembers.

The program gave Turner every resource he needed to heal in one place, at no charge to him.

It even gave him a free place to live during his months of treatment.

He says he’d never experienced anything like it.

"I mean that's unheard of to be able to see your primary care provider, your occupational therapist, your speech therapist, your recreational therapist, psychiatrist, counseling, to see everybody in a week,” Turner says. “That doesn't happen!  That just doesn't happen."

That's why Jarrad Turner became part of Shepherd’s Men, to try to help other veterans find their way home.

"I can't say what SHARE did for me because I don't want to be cliché,” Turner says.  “But, it saved my family. It saved me.  I'm here. I have a relationship with my family because of SHARE."