NFL star, former Olympian shares struggle with mental illness with Phoenix Veterans


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Football legend Herschel Walker shared his battle with dissociative identity disorder with a packed room of Veterans and VA employees earlier this month at the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center in Phoenix.

Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, Olympian and MMA competitor, shared through humor his life story from his humble upbringing in a Georgia town of 2,100 people to his football stardom as the Dallas Cowboys running back and, finally, his battle with mental illness, when he no longer had athletics to quell his anger.

“I didn’t have a coping mechanism anymore,” Walker said of his retirement from football. “Some might use drinking or drugs to cope, but when I was angry, I would run fast. When I left sports, my anger came back.”

Image: Football legend Herschel Walker shared his battle with dissociative identity disorder with a packed room of Veterans and VA employees, Oct. 3, at the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center.Walker said it all came to ahead when voices told him that a delivery driver had disrespected him. He followed the drive with the intent to shoot him, but his fury toward the man dissipated after noticing a religious bumper sticker on the delivery truck. He said he felt like he was losing his mind, so he sought help from a pastor who convinced him to see mental health doctors. The doctors told Walker that he exhibited signs of dissociative identity disorder.

Walker said he initially refused to believe the doctors, but he continued his struggles, frightening family with games of Russian roulette and aggressive behavior. He said eventually saw the light and checked himself into a behavioral health hospital in California.

“I remember sitting in my first group session listening to these stories,” he said. “I said to myself ‘I’m not like these people. They’re crazy.’ So, I decided to lie.”

However, Walker said he eventually began to change his initial perception of the hospital and accepted that he was struggling, allowing himself to receive help. He told the crowd of Veterans and VA employees that he initially thought you were less of a person if you sought help, but he changed his perception with the help of the hospital staff and other patients.

“If you’re struggling, you’re not alone,” Walker said. “If you’re hurting, don’t be ashamed. I’m not ashamed.”

Walker said he felt a kindred spirit with Veterans and service members having had military aspirations when he was younger. He has shared his experience with Veterans and active-duty personal at more than 160 military and VA installations.

“Life is not easy, but if you keep looking up, I can promise you that you will get through,” he said. “You will get knocked down, but you must get back up. Batman, Superman and the Hulk don’t exist, but you do. You put it on the line. You’re the real heroes.”

For general information about the mental health services provided by VA, visit your local VA medical center or Vet Center. For Veterans in immediate need to speak to a mental health professional please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.


About the author: Macario Mora is a public affairs specialist for the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

-- VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you'd like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. don harris    

    Very Nice, but I still will never trust them.Carrying it alone.

    1. R Murph    

      Just be forewarned: the longer a coping mechanism is used effectively, the more catastrophic the damage will be if it eventually fails. Best of luck.

  2. Robert L Beckman    

    Gary Hicks, I’m a former USAF KC-135 Vietnam Vet pilot. A group of us, concerned about the suicide epidemic among vets, put together TreatNOW, a Coalition of clinics treating and helping heal brain injuries using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Here’s the brief brief: Please get in touch. We’ve helped over two dozen current and former NFL ballplayers, and can help HW. Our success rate is VERY high with over 2,600 treated, 1340 vets.
    TreatNOW: Using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for TBI/PTSD/PCS/Concussion:
    The essential elements of the argument

    1. We face an epidemic of suicide, and brain-related wounds afflicting service members’ mental and physical health. Millions of civilians, athletes, fire, rescue, first responders are also affected.
    2. Billions of $$$ are being spent on research and unproven even hurtful drugs and devices that exacerbate the problems in too many cases.
    3. DOD/VA/Army conducted HBOT studies producing DATA that show HBOT works: it is safe and effective.
    4. Business as usual affects over 800,000 wounded and their families while BILLIONS of $$$ are expended on drugs and fruitless psychological and other unproven interventions. They are experimenting with LSD and psychotropics.
    5. DOD/VA/Army will not use HBOT; their position reduces to flawed conclusions about cost, danger, size of problem, closed minds, and entrenched interests, especially default to drug interventions.
    6. Cost to the wounded: interminable wait times, mis-diagnoses, drugs and semi-permanent welfare status, families in crises, wives with secondary TBI/PTSD, degraded quality of life.
    7. The cost to the nation: 20 suicides a day, hollowing out of Special Operations forces, $60,000 cost/per year for each untreated brain injury, and corrosive effects of wounded who are told: “There is no treatment to help you.”
    8. The Treatment does exist: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy when used by the TreatNOW Coalition and multiple clinics across the US and world have positive scientific and clinical evidence in over 2,300 cases that HBOT helps heal wounded brains and returns patients to a life denied them by DOD/VA/Army that will not use or pay for HBOT treatment for TBI/PTSD/PCS/Concussion.
    9. The solution is hiding in plain sight: allow the use of TRICARE/Choice cards by brain-wounded to go on civilian/private market to obtain pre-approved treatment. The value in using CHOICE:
    1. No need for new hearing or legislation: CHOICE already exists and is funded.
    2. Provides immediate help to veterans with brain injury
    3. Provides immediate relief to overloaded VA system
    4. Starts a process of providing needed services unavailable in VA or DOD
    5. Short-circuits establishment’s efforts to continue researching a problem that it cannot and will not
    solve on its own
    6. Delivers on the new Administration’s promise to act quickly to cut through establishment
    bureaucracy
    7. Saves money and lives
    8. Results from science and clinical practice available in 60 days. Expected results: >85% success
    rate, based on 2,300+ patients to date………. and most done pro bono.

    An essential component of our sports culture is the Concussion Protocol as practiced by the DOD/VA/Army, the NFL, the NCAA, the overwhelming number of ERs and high schools around the country. It is the equivalent of negligence to not treat the wound to the brain. If you refuse to recognize and treat the brain wound, it isn’t going to Heal. Symptoms will abate and the wounded may feel better, but beware the long-term effects, particularly when the insults to the head continue. And this factoid: Since the Army now recognizes that BLAST injury is the likely CAUSE of the sequelae diagnosed as “only PTSD” we are confronted with an additional 325,000 likely misdiagnosed TBIs. Another little-explored medical reality is that PTSD-without-TBI is real, PTSD can cause brain injury because of the chemical and physical alterations occasioned by the body’s response to psychological symptoms. Further, drug addiction and substance abuse cause brain damage. Research shows that HBOT reduces pain and time-to-withdrawal by one-half; patients who undergo a full course of HBOT treatment are able to get off almost all of their drugs.

    These videos give more insight into successes and science:

    MSGT Scott Roessler [Ranger] http://tinyurl.com/hf3czmw
    GnySgt Rotenberry & wife http://tinyurl.com/gpzpxgy
    MAJ Ben Richards http://tinyurl.com/jts2jy3
    CAPT Smotherman/Rep John Bennett http://tinyurl.com/lvcf22r
    Joe Namath, football http://tinyurl.com/kflu9up
    The Honorable Patt Maney (BG, USA) http://tinyurl.com/m97x4jp
    Brian Fleury – Hockey Player http://tinyurl.com/hefs478
    Robin Read, Stroke Patient http://tinyurl.com/gv2zpkl
    Latest Ben Richards video http://tinyurl.com/hd9ahcd

    1. Stephen E Vaile    

      Thank you Officer Beckman!! Today I turn 71 Y/O. I have suffered and sometimes dealt with PTSD and TBI since 1962 (high school football collision at full speed with a goal post.) This was just one of several head traumas, the most recent was a roll over car wreck in December of 2014. I have been aware of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for many years. But, this is the first I’ve heard of it for TBI & PTSF. I am presently on powerful psychotropics, 4. I know they get more dangerous side effects with aging so this seems to offer a reasonable alternative. Thank you again.

    2. James Lance Mertz    

      So how do I apply for this,HBOT treatment? I live in Madison, WI.

  3. Benjamin F Ireland    

    Stories like this need to be heard. If one of our brothers or Sisters commits suicide it’s to many you are wanted. needed and loved. Seek help please I to suffer from mental illness.

  4. MATTHEW RICHARD JOHNSON    

    Why wasn’t this mentioned publicly? None of the veterans i know who help fight for veterans didn’t even know. Once again, thanks VA for your poor dedication to your veterans in AZ.

  5. Aaron Strickland    

    Herschel is one of my sport heroes, and the list of athletes I respect is VERY short. He is one of very few student athletes who understands the value of finishing his college. When he left UGA as a junior to play for the USFL New Jersey Generals, he went back to UGA in the off-season to finish his college out of his own pocket. What a great example to young people! It’s interesting and surprising to hear that he struggled after leaving professional sports, because he always projected the image of a mature, respectable athlete and citizen who others should emulate. By admitting his struggles, he also has admitted that he’s not perfect. It’s refreshing to hear that he sought out help for his struggles. By his very public admission, he has only raised his stock more in my eyes. Outstanding!

  6. Renee Workings    

    The University of Texas at Dallas Brain Performance Institute has “Warrior” Programs (most are free to Veterans & First Responders) for gaining insight, managing and healing brain and mental health conditions. An excellent resource.

    https://brainhealth.utdallas.edu/brain-performance-institute/

  7. Jackson    

    Like I give a (redacted) about the struggles of a wealthy former football player. (redacted) VA, you’ll never get it right.

  8. Robert J Jones    

    Hershel: Well done! I so admire the help that your story is bringing to many veterans and also non-veterans by you sharing it!
    I lived down the street from you in Verona, NJ and always admired your hard work as you jogged in the area. I also hope that our young people read your story and gain the wisdom shared.

  9. DAVE GEER US NAVY SERVED    

    THE US. GOVERNMENT AND VA. NEEDS TO TAKE CARE EVERY MIL.PERSON SERVING OR HAS SERVED WITH THIS ISSUE ,OWED TO ALL.
    \

  10. Sally McMurray    

    I will never reach out to the VA again concerning my PTSD…EVER!

  11. Andrew Neighbors    

    Hershel Walker is a great human being and a true inspiration.

  12. Michael Wills    

    I’d still like to know what happened to my post. I spent alot of time typing it and had alot to say. I tol d everyone what happened to me while on active duty in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973. Then whats been going on with me since 2001 till now. Where is it please? I didn’t get a reply from anyone.

  13. Deanne    

    I went thru a 3 day BIT program (brain Intergration therapy)…it totally was worth every penny spent…I tried to get our local VA to look at something like that for TBI, etc. it was a no go!…if there are no statistics or minimal info they won’t look at it…and it’s sad because I KNOW it would help so many of my bros/sis!

  14. james e tryon    

    I just typed a response to this article and in the process of posting it got lost. I am not going to retype again. The main point I was trying to make is that mental health and PTSD are two different things and have nothing in common. Least of all the treatment for both. I speak from experience having dealt with people with both ailments.

  15. Brendalee    

    Please allow me to hear your story I am a woman who had combat Depression for at least 10 years and I still have it but it is under control , not all the time and lately I find myself thinking about my past and what my future holds for me.
    Would like to chat and maybe we can work this out together……

  16. Terry McCarty    

    Hi, my name is Terry McCarty, and I am an Army Veteran. I had a traumatic brain injury when I was a veteran. Can I still get help? What happened was I was a welder on a bridge and fell from the bridge. 40′ onto my head. I have heard the benefits of the hyper-baric oxygen chamber but, didn’t know where to go. I am very interested. Can I get help? Where do I go from here? Please contact me.

Comments are closed.