Cristina Alfonso-Zea exudes positive energy and heart as she speaks to a large group of veterans. As with many vets, you wouldn’t know Ms. Alfonso-Zea had been through hell and back to get where she is. She’s a veteran and a survivor of addiction and attempted suicide. Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, she returned home to face the challenge of PTSD and the life-crippling symptoms it can bring.
How she went from deployment, self-destruction and debilitating disorder to inspiring leader of an important educational foundation has a lot to do with the help she got from one caring individual. Frank Spady is that individual.
They met when Frank was bestowing an award from Goodwill of Southern Nevada. The recipient? Cristina. In her acceptance speech, she told of her fight with drug addiction and attempted suicide. Although everyone in the room was deeply touched by her story, Frank acted, striking up a friendship that turned out to be an important and lasting relationship for both of them.
A Vietnam veteran, Frank became Cris’s mentor, protector, and confidant. Although they hailed from different generations and different eras of military conflict, they found common ground and deep respect for one another. And they both, it turned out, suffered from PTSD.
Traumatic experiences can trigger PTSD in anyone, but our veteran population is particularly burdened with it. Alienation is a key by-product of PTSD just as substance abuse and depression are common side effects of PTSD. That’s what happened to Cris. And the clincher was that women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
At 17, Frank fought on the ground in the infantry before he went on to become a helicopter door gunner. While substance abuse and depression haven’t been his battles, Frank’s PTSD symptoms have worsened over the years to now include seizures, and the violent nightmares haven’t stopped since he returned from Vietnam. But meeting Cris has helped him. Frank took Cris under his wing because she’s a fellow vet and because he cares for her welfare. But he’s also made a serendipitous discovery in the process: helping Cris has had a positive effect on his own PTSD symptoms.
It is as if connecting with Cris has healed a part of Frank that’s still suffering after all these years. There are other vets who’ve made the same discovery. Giving back, connecting, and helping others has benefits for everyone, not just vets.
Frank Spady, Chairman of the National Veterans Foundation, has made it his mission to help stop the 22 veteran suicides each day. He has also served on other non-profit boards such as the Las Vegas USO and Goodwill of Southern Nevada, in addition to a highly successful business career working for multi-national corporations to achieve record-breaking sales. His friendship and support have played a major role in helping Cris regain her strength and conviction to succeed.
Showing care and respect in veterans’ lives is more powerful than you know. Since each vet brings a unique set of experiences and reactions to his or her service, there’s no single answer to how we can help. But finding your own way of making a difference for this community means you too may change a life.
We’ve gone paperless! For more than 30 years, the National Veterans Foundation has mailed out a printed newsletter for Memorial Day. To save some trees and funds (that we can now use to help more veterans), our newsletter will now be electronic only. But if you miss the look of our traditional newsletter, fear not. Just click here.
2016 Memorial Day Newsletter