My name is Gregory Shovak, and I am a Paramedic Preceptor as well as a part-time Paramedic educator working in Hartford, Connecticut. During the 2013 JEMS Conference in Washington, DC, I attended a presentation conducted by the Arizona Coalition for Military Families and its partners. This is my story of its impact on one veteran.
In February, 2013, I was assigned by my company to precept a newly rehired medic named “Jon.”
I’d known Jon for a few years, as he was a student of mine at the local college where he acquired his paramedic education. I worked with Jon within class as well as for part of his field internship. Jon was a quiet and naive student with an innocence that was almost comical at times.
Soon after completing his education, Jon was deployed to Afghanistan as a medic with the National Guard. I lost contact with Jon during his deployment and had only third-party knowledge of his well-being and whereabouts. After returning home, Jon took time to himself and then (after some difficulties) came back to work, now ready to pursue his civilian paramedic career.
Once Jon started precepting, it was quickly evident that the innocent boy that spent a year in Afghanistan was vastly changed and perhaps gone forever. We again bonded almost immediately and became more than co-workers—more than just preceptee/preceptor—we became close friends. We spoke in generalities about his time overseas, and about his difficulties re-acclimating into civilian life.
Jon was at times loud, difficult to focus and socially inappropriate. “Routine” calls didn’t garnish much attention, but if the patient was critical Jon became almost machine like and focused. Jon began to feel more comfortable with our relationship and opened up more about difficulties he had coming back to work, dealing with co-workers, past roommates and with girlfriends.
Jon once told me he hadn’t planned his life past much past his deployment. He thought he was going to die overseas, and since he didn’t, he felt lost and without direction. Jon didn’t understand why others had lost their lives while he survived. He had nothing to come back to – no career, no wife, no kids – but either way he returned and was now lost. He denied being suicidal but stated he had hoped for the opportunity to take another tour, and hopefully this time he would pay the ultimate sacrifice.
In early March we attended the JEMS conference in Washington DC. One of the seminars was regarding EMS dealing with veterans in crisis. Jon didn’t feel he could attend such a class, so I went solo. This brief course gave me a huge insight into Jon, his life and his struggles. I learned that Jon’s actions, thoughts and fears were a common presentation of Vets returning with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and anxiety. As the conference weekend progressed Jon and I discussed the veteran’s seminar more and more. He began to realize he’s not alone, not “crazy,” and not a lost cause. He began to realize things will get better and there was help available.
Since the conference, Jon has made great strides both personally and professionally. The seminar was the catalyst for the positive changes. I now knew more about the underlying reasons Jon acted as he did. I was able to reinforce the positives and redirect the negatives working with Jon to overcome the PTS and the accompanying anxiety. Jon, too, now understood he wasn’t so “broken” that he could never regain some of his past self.
Jon has made great strides over the past few months thanks to the knowledge I gained and passed on from your seminar. He has since successfully completed precepting and is quickly becoming a respected medic within our company. He used his Paramedic pay increase to purchase a new Jeep. Jon has begun working toward the completion of a book he started writing while deployed. He no longer “wishes” he was dead and doesn’t want to deploy again, now realizing there is life after Afghanistan. He works out regularly, sees a counselor and continues to effect positive change in his life.
Jon is now happier with his life and can understand some of the negatives he experienced after deployment. Jon’s last battle is to right some of the wrongs in his personal life. He has begun spending more time with his family; he’s weeded out negative influences and has come to realize how PTS ruined his relationship with his girlfriend.
Jon isn’t miraculously “fixed” overnight, but he is moving leaps and bounds in the right direction, because of our friendship and the insight gained through your program. I hope others can be as positively influenced as we were by the knowledge you’ve disseminated through the Arizona Coalition for Military Families.
My heartfelt THANKS go out to EMS Today and the Coalition for helping me to save my friend from the downward negative spiral of PTS and the reintegration issues he experienced. I can only hope others find solace through the information gained in your program. The young men and women of the Armed Forces deserve better than sadness, despair and suicide.
If you or someone you know is interested in taking a similar course at EMS Today 2019, we will be hosting a course titled "Responding to Veterans and Service Members in Crisis." Learn more about the course HERE.