Warning: The content of this story may be difficult for some veterans.
Gone are the days of his 15-year career, the excitement of being selected for the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and his numerous decorations. All he could think of was the four-letter diagnosis he couldn’t imagine living with – PTSD.
Being part of the US Marine Corps from 1996 to 2001, Morales knew how to be resilient and to be mentally and physically strong. Morales never saw the effects war can have on survivors, but when he moved to the US military and became a public affairs reporter, that changed.
“I saw death through the lens of my camera,” Morales recalled. “It was like the worst parts of a movie.”
From 2009 to 2010, Morales was deployed to Iraq with Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, and from 2011 to 2012 he was deployed to Afghanistan with the Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Brigade, 1st Inf. Div.
Morales, with the support of management, had taken the first steps to seek advice because he knew something was wrong with him. Unfortunately, this experience was not rewarding.
“I was really discouraged because the counselor and the sessions were too academic,” Morales said. “There was no personal relationship or empathy between me and the counselor, so I stopped going.”
Morales intermittently had strange feelings that he couldn’t explain. When he moved to the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, “the Old Guard”, at Fort Meyer, Virginia, things went from bad to worse.
“The regiment could hold up to 26 funerals a day, and I…all of us…were surrounded by the dead,” Morales said. “That’s when I got back on the board and made some progress.”
The veteran admitted that in addition to counseling, he also had responsibilities that did not allow him or his mind to focus on his situation.
“I was a leader, which meant that I took care of the training and preparation of my soldiers,” Morales continued. “I was always busy and my mind never slowed down.”
When he moved to Network Enterprise Technology Command in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, that all changed.
“I was an office of one, and I broke down,” Morales admitted. “I knew it was important to lead by example as a senior manager, so I tried counseling again thinking that if I got help, maybe it would motivate others to do it. also do.”
Morales’ counselor recommended a three-month PTSD program in Denver with Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center.
“I was reluctant, I didn’t want to go because I thought they would recommend my release from the army,” Morales said. “I told my counselor that I felt like I was still in the fight and wanted to serve, and she told me she wouldn’t be pushing for a medical evaluation board.”
As a patient, Morales underwent cognitive processing therapy, group therapy, and worked on personal impact statements. He was also presented with a solution.
“The immediate solution was that I had to accept everything and change my way of thinking,” continued Morales. “One of the sentences that stuck with me was bad things happen to good people.”
Just as he was beginning to accept the diagnosis that Sgt. 1st Class Morales was suffering from PTSD, he had more news.
“I was told that based on the evaluation and my participation in the program at Denver VA, I was no longer combat effective,” Morales said.
His counselor had kept his word not to pursue a Med Board, but Denver VA medical staff had determined that was the best thing for Morales.
“My life has fallen apart,” said a somber Morales. “I was the go-to guy who had done 15 and was planning on doing more than 20; I was a recipient of Sergeant Audie Murphy. Now I am told that I am unfit.
Morales admitted that he had become two people in his mind. Professionally, he considered himself a success. Personally, he considered himself a broken man.
While in Denver VA, Morales met with a Peer Support Specialist.
“He was a Vietnam veteran, and I felt comfortable knowing that there was someone who was a veteran like me,” Morales continued. “It made a difference because I knew I wasn’t going to be just clinical; I was going to ask for help from a fellow soldier.
Morales recalls the veteran painting a picture of what life with PTSD was like, and while the veteran wasn’t eloquent with his words, Morales said he left him with a powerful message.
“He told me PTSD was a life sentence, but it was manageable,” Morales added.
When Morales left Denver and returned to Arizona, he joined the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
“That’s when my healing really started,” Morales said. “I found a productive outlet.”
Morales qualified for full membership and realized that even though he had been removed from one lineup, there was another that would welcome him into their ranks. When he left the military and moved to Florida, Morales chose to receive his health care at James A Haley Veterans’ Hospital & Clinics.
When he first met Dr. Chow, Morales was immediately put at ease.
“I saw a plaque on his wall and realized we were in the same battle space,” Morales continued. “Now I had a fighter next to me giving me the care I needed, and it was amazing.”
Over the years, Morales’ love for VA grew during his time in Tampa.
“I can honestly say that the staff on this team have been – without exception – brilliant,” Morales said.
A few years ago, Morales’ therapist suggested that he step out of his comfort zone. It spurred an idea that grew exponentially to a level Morales never thought possible. Morales’ idea was to organize a motorcycle-bike party for veterans.
“The success of this event has motivated me to make it my personal mission to help one veteran a week,” continued Morales. “Whether it’s a text, a phone call or a visit with the VFW, I know that the work is beneficial because as soon as I become inactive, my demons resurface.”
During the event, Morales met fellow Tampa VA veteran, friend, and employee, “Super” Dave Allen, who would go on to be instrumental in Morales’ journey to help himself and others. Together, the two were part of a six-member group that became the nation’s first combat veteran motorcyclists association to lead a Final Mile Salute.
“When a veteran dies and has no family to claim, we work with local police to escort that veteran to the cemetery,” Morales said. “The goal is to ensure that no veteran travels alone to their final resting place.”
Morales said he works to remember the good times in his service, but also respects the struggles with PTSD.
“The main lesson from my experience is that we have the life we live, and it’s up to us to define that,” Morales continued. “It’s hard and it never gets easier, but I know I can do it.”
Morales has also moved on in his personal life. He has a son and his girlfriend, Autumn, is also a veteran.
“I have someone at home who I can talk to about my feelings,” Morales said. “She’s been there, just like me, and we know what it’s like. We are a champion for each other.
Morales admits he still has tough days, but he has a strong support network and is motivated to keep working to help other veterans like him because it gives him purpose.
“I have a great life,” Morales said. “I know I deserve a good life…the same goes for all veterans. »
The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans and service members in crisis, and their families and friends, to trained and caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free phone line, online chat or of an SMS.
Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 124/7; click here to chatting on the Internet; or SMS to 838255.