My name is Wendy Shackley and I am a wife, mother, and grandmother. The ongoing creation of my non-profit The Ripple Effect - Helping Veterans and Families Heal was born when my son died. It was created to honor the great man he was and help others to overcome what he could not.
My son Joel served two tours overseas with the Army. The first tour was in Iraq - Iraqi Freedom in 2008, and he served one year. My son saw many horrible things during this time and came back with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was treated with drugs and continued to train for the next year. Joel’s unit was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. He went back into combat, while still having PTSD. This war was different from Iraq and when he came home to Colorado Springs in 2011 he was an E5 and had served his country well, yet there was a part of him he left behind.
There were many things my son had to overcome to reintegrate back into society. He had lost comrades overseas, lived through mortar attacks and seen many horrible things. Joel wanted to be with his family, yet it was difficult to overcome the sleepless nights and flashbacks. He committed himself to a number of Behavior facilities after experiencing suicidal thoughts and actions.
Joel was heavily drugged and prescribed ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy. This procedure took his short term memory away. He had to use a GPS to get around town. Joel wanted to go back to school. He had paid for extra years of schooling to get into the field he desired. The loss of memory made him doubt his abilities. Joel started to drink, which dulled the pain.
In 2013, my son was medically retired from the Army, after making his third attempt at suicide. He was reassigned to the Wounded Warrior program at Fort Carson, although he still lived off base. Joel became a recluse, not wanting to participate in life. The drinking became worst and his wife and 2 month old son left to visit family. She asked Joel to come with them but Joel remained in Colorado Springs for 3 more months.
Joel chose not to spend the holidays with anyone and became more and more secluded. The medications made him sleep so heavily at times he would not wake up until 1pm in the afternoon. It was hard for him to think and take care of his expenses or keep any appointments for his health. The apartment complex towed his vehicle a few times when he could not keep it running. Everything was coming to a head and Joel was spiraling out of control.
I did not find out what happened to Joel until January 17th 2014, but here is how it happened. Joel lost hope and on January 14, 2014 he overdosed on medications and said goodbye to this world.
Joel’s wife, myself, his sister and his advocate tried to contact him by phone for 3 days and were unsuccessful. I called the police, his apartment complex, the VA, even the Governor of Colorado. No one would open his door. The police said unless there was a complaint or a bad smell, there was nothing they could do. Joel had a scheduled VA appointment on Friday January 17th, which he missed, so his wife called the VA and they agreed to call the police to do a well check.
The policewoman told me when she arrived for the well check, “She looked through the window and saw my son laying face down on the floor. The dog was barking and was in a panic. She turned the knob and the door was unlocked.” NO ONE HAD EVEN TRIED TO TURN THE KNOB FOR 3 DAYS!
My son died because there was NOT a reintegration system in effect that worked. My whole family has suffered and lost a son, husband, father, and brother because of this.
My commitment with The Ripple Effect - Helping Veterans and families HEAL is to have a system in place that Educates, Collaborates and Follows through using Veteran helping Veteran to get through this process.
My son fell through the cracks and I do not want this to happen to any more families!!!!!!!
My Poem for Joel, written by Wendy Shackley