Army Capt. Adrian Veseth-Nelson was 24-years-old when he received the U.S. Army Bronze Star for Valor for his efforts that stopped a group of insurgents in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“After securing a convoy that was ambushed, my guys got hit by a drive-by shooting. My wingman spotted the shooters in a black sedan. They parked on the side of a school yard and started shooting machine guns. We had to do something,” said Veseth-Nelson. “We chased them onto a crowded entrance to a highway at 65 miles per hour, and I told my driver to ram them. It was out of a movie.”
A survivor, who they pulled out of the wreckage of the insurgent’s vehicle, threw a grenade at them. Fortunately, it didn’t detonate; it was the only one of the 15 grenades later found in the car without a fuse. Veseth-Nelson’s unit was safe, and the sole surviving, injured insurgent was taken away by police.
Once he returned to the states, Veseth-Nelson was considered a home-town hero — respected by family, friends and fans. Celebrations were in abundance, but for Veseth-Nelson, the indulgence didn’t end.
“I was easily drinking two six-packs a day and sometimes would come to work with alcohol on my breath,” he said. “Just like everyone else, I was happy that I was alive. I didn’t know the line between that and self-medicating.”
What Veseth-Nelson didn’t know was that he was self-medicating to cope with symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He developed behavioral and physiological symptoms like disturbed sleep, fluctuating weight, extreme road rage and general anger.
“My first response to any threat was to fight. I even flashed my gun at my colleague,” he said. “My boss pulled me aside and said I needed to change things. He knew the Adrian who he used to see wasn’t the one he was seeing right now.”
Veseth-Nelson took a proactive approach to treatment; he sought out a psychologist on base.
“My psychologist saw my PTSD for what it was,” he said. “She recommended the Specialized Care Program.”
The Specialized Care Program, run by Deployment Health Clinical Center, a DCoE component center, is a three-week multi-disciplinary treatment program for service members and veterans coping with deployment-related stress and PTSD. The program combines group therapy and one-on-one sessions that give participants tools to address psychological health concerns.
“I was immersed in an environment where people really care. Yet you had to be active in participating and be vocal because you only get out of it what you put into it,” Veseth-Nelson said. “It’s an amazing program that brought me back to my true self. It changed my life.”
While Veseth-Nelson has retired from the Army, he, along with his wife Diana, are very active in the military community, giving speeches and holding seminars about their own experiences while encouraging service members, veterans and families to reach out for help if needed.
“After some soul-searching, I realized that I even though I couldn’t be the combat leader that I was, it doesn’t mean I can’t help my country,” he said. “What I am doing now is helping people with PTSD as an extension of that service. I use my position as an officer and a war veteran to break the stigma wherever I possibly can.”
Stay tuned for Diana Veseth-Nelson’s DCoE Blog post about coping with PTSD as a military wife.
Visit DHCC’s Specialized Care Program for more information. Also, if you have questions related to psychological health or traumatic brain injury, you can contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 at 866-966-1020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect to a health resource consultant.