After-Hours: When Stakes are Highest

The call came in on our Lifeline for Vets at 4:55 PM, Pacific Time, on a Friday. The counselor who took the call immediately identified it as a crisis call and turned it over to Shad Meshad, our founder and President. Three hours later Meshad put down the phone, the Vet on the other end stable, at least until morning, when they had arranged to talk again.

This East Coast Vet had been holed up in his room since Christmas. His wife and children were the only people he’d seen for months. How did he know about us? He googled “Veteran suicide” and our crisis hotline popped up first. “This was it,” he said, “my last attempt to get help. If you hadn’t picked up the phone, I wouldn’t have been here by morning.” He’d even written letters to his wife and children, then decided to give it one last try.

This Veteran had transitioned out of the military on a medical discharge for depression. Twenty years went by. He’d built a career in law enforcement, as many former military do. He had a stable marriage and family. Investigating a case, he’d seen something that triggered how young and vulnerable he’d been when he was the victim of MST (Military Sexual Trauma). He’d reported the incident at the time but was ridiculed and shamed for it. So he buried it and went on with his life. Sound familiar?

Burying traumatic experience is rarely the end of it. As depression took the upper hand, he took leave from work, finally resigning, but his depression worsened. He went to the VA for treatment and was prescribed drugs. They worked for several years. Then the nightmares from the assault started. He was sleeping less than two hours a day. Driven by sleep deprivation, nightmares and deep depression, he returned to the VA, where he finally told the psychiatrist what had happened to him. The advice he received was that the past could not be changed and he’d have to accept that. Different meds were prescribed. As depression and despair closed in, his life got smaller and smaller. He called our Lifeline for Vets on what he thought would be his last night.

Saving lives, like suicidal ideation, operates on no schedule. Thank goodness he called when our lines were open. We’ve been trying for years to find funding for more staff so the Lifeline for Vets always has a counselor to pick up the phone.

Shad called him the next morning and kept in touch over the next week. He contacted a therapist colleague who was experienced with Veterans and trauma and was geographically closer to this Vet. She drove over two hours to reach him to be sure he was still stablized. Later she brought in a retired colonel to help with the case. Throughout this, the Vet and Shad talked almost daily.

On one of their calls, the Vet mentioned Ketamine. He’d heard about its use for depression and he wanted to try it but treatment wasn’t cheap: a series of four for $3200. While Shad had heard of it, he couldn’t recommend it, but he encouraged the Vet to get more information. The Vet contacted a clinic within his state. In the ensuing interview, they expressed interest in his case and offered treatment at a reduced rate.

It takes a village. Shad contacted some donors and arranged for part of the fee. A payment plan was arranged for the balance. An anonymous donor picked up the cost of the hotel stay while the treatments were administered. Initial results were so promising that the Vet wanted two more treatments. The clinic offered one at no cost, and the rest of the cost was met by the Veteran or other donors. Shad stayed in close contact with him for six weeks. By that time, the Vet was able to play with his children. We’re still in touch with him as he continues to heal and get his life back.

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