Keith served 11 years in the U.S. Army, had a 12 month tour in Bosnia in 2000 and served 18 months in Iraq from 2004-to-2006.
As it is for so many, what happened in Iraq changed Keith’s life.
As a gunner with the 108th cavalry regiment, he endured 16 IED blasts – five at the truck he was driving the other 11 either right in front or behind his vehicle.
He came home to Georgia damaged. He had chronic pain, suffered from PTSD, was experiencing short term memory loss and was legally deaf.
He went to the Veterans Administration looking for help. He was dubious about the VA from the start. He had good reason. He remembered the experience his father had as a Vietnam veteran who also came home with scars from war suffering from back pain and PTSD.
“I watched as his body deteriorated from overmedication and a bureaucracy that seemed to prevent doctors who were treating him from talking to each other,” Keith said. “So when I went to the VA for my own issues, I thought about my dad.”
Turns out his dad, who died 15 years ago, gave him some good advice.
“Keep good notes about everything that happened to you,” he told his son about his experience.”You’ll need it.”
“The VA makes you go through assessments,” Keith said. “They take time because of the different departments you have go through. I didn’t have much patience for it, I was tired and beat up and I just wanted to go home.”
He told the VA doctors of his back pain, which came about as it often does for veterans, because of the fact he was carrying between 60 and 100 lbs of gear on his back and was subject to being tossed around in a truck during his duty.
“I was getting no relief,” he said. “And things were getting worse.”
He was shuffled through a bureaucracy that mostly didn’t or couldn’t address needs, except for the counselors.
“I really felt that counselors would listen to me,” he said. “But others either wouldn’t or couldn’t.”
The PTSD cost him a job and a marriage. A son from that marriage is autistic and, like many autistic youth, doesn’t look you in the eye when you are talking with them.
“I was legally deaf,” Keith said. “I could only communicate with him by reading his lips. I was frustrated with him and with me. It just was horrible.”
Keith is a man of action and at one point, after a discussion with a psychologist, he decided things were going to change. He became more aggressive about his own care, pushing the bureaucracy, staying on the phone for literally hours trying to get answers and solutions to his problems.
And then he caught a break – the VA’s own bureaucracy was so dysfunctional that he was told he couldn’t get an appointment for twelve months, but that they could refer him outside the VA. He jumped at the chance.
Newly married, Keith and his wife, Dana, began that search.
It wasn’t smooth, had lots of bumps, but ultimately led to a chiropractor in Griffin, Georgia who, ironically, had once been a critical care nurse in the VA.
Dr. Robert Hayden turned out to be the key that helped Keith unlock the pain.
“Before he did anything, he talked with me, really talked to me,” said Keith.
For Dr. Hayden there were two factors.
“Find out what the source of Keith’s pain was,” Dr Hayden remembers,” because the pain was a constant reminder of what happened to him in Iraq and that made the PTSD worse.”
Interestingly enough, Dr. Hayden found the source of pain – it was a congenital defect in his spine that was aggravated by the heavy packs he wore as a soldier.
Keith remembered the treatment.
“He lays me on a table, has me lean on one side and popped it and I screamed,” he said. “Then he rolled me over to the other side and did it again.”
He stood up and was pain free, the shaking in his hands was gone and “I cried for joy.”
(By the way, to reinforce the emotion Keith felt at time, he choked up as he was talking with us remembering the freedom he felt.)
Initially he came back weekly to see Dr. Hayden, and now it’s monthly.
“I’m sleeping well, my chronic back pain has eased and my PTSD is much better,” he said.”I’m hiking the Appalachian trial with a backpack, playing with my kids, riding on my lawn mower and taking long trips.”
His problems with the VA aren’t over, and he’s continuing to fight for neurologic treatment.
But he’s feeling better, much better.