Veteran Finds Salvation in VA Treatment Program Suicide Prevention Month

Suicide Prevention Month


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Randy Elston graduated from VA San Diego Healthcare System’s Aspire Center on Sept. 4 after six months of care at the facility, which assists Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan recover from wounds of war. For the 38-year-old Marine Veteran, the thought of completing the program fills him with something that has been absent from his life as of late – hope.

Hope in Randy’s life means the promise of seeing his two young daughters again, the chance of getting on his feet with a place to live and a future career, and having something to look forward to with each day. Not very long ago, none of these things were possible and the burden almost ended his life on several occasions.

Elston’s troubles began with difficulties in his immediate family long before he joined the military. They continued in his service, with deployments and experiences that led to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After being honorably discharged, Randy faced a strained marriage, which eventually ended in divorce.

“When my marriage imploded, I didn’t know how the court was going to look at me and say I’m able to take care of my kids,” Randy said. “I just tried to check out.”

One night when talking to his ex-wife, she ran out to take her kids to her brother and Randy tried to end his life with a bottle of pills.

She came back to find him on the floor and barely managed to save his life. Randy woke up in intensive care at his local hospital, broken in many ways and without a path forward. After recovering, Randy went through several programs to help treat his mental health. While they did help move him forward, he needed something more. He was out of money, homeless and living on the streets.

“When he came to us, he was a lost individual.”

“After completing a program in Louisiana, I got an opportunity to come to the Aspire Center,” Randy said. “It took a while but I was finally accepted and came into the program last February.”

Among the treatment modalities offered at the Aspire Center are: case management, vocational rehabilitation, psychotherapy, education classes, medication management, complementary/alternative therapies, social and recreational activities, and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. In addition, Veterans are given the tools to thrive when they leave, such as help with vocational, financial, and mental health resources.

“When Randy came to us, he was a lost individual. He had lost so many things leading to his admission into the program, his wife, contact with his children, no home and no care,” said Dr. Lu Le, staff psychiatrist at the Aspire Center. “He was a very appropriate candidate for our program, being very heavily exposed to combat and had post-traumatic stress. I thought he would be a good fit. The initial phase of his care, I felt like, was a challenging transition. There’s definitely a transitional period where Veterans are dealing with a new way of doing things.”

Veteran Randy Elston (right) looks at a coin presented to him by VA San Diego employee Michael Mendia during a graduation ceremony.

Veteran Randy Elston (right) looks at a coin presented to him by VA San Diego employee Michael Mendia during a graduation ceremony.

“When I came here, I had given up on myself again,” Randy said. “I didn’t want help but knew I needed it. I didn’t know what I needed. After about three or four days, I fled.”

“In talking and building rapport, he didn’t seem open to it,” Dr. Le said. “He was still preoccupied with the stress at hand and got up and left the building.”

“I jumped the fence behind the building and ran into oncoming freeway traffic,” Randy said. “I was running into traffic for 30 minutes trying to get people to hit me. I would run into both lanes of traffic and everyone would swerve around me or hit their brakes.”

When he saw police helicopters in the air and police sirens approaching, he left the area. Again, he tried to end his life through several methods, all unsuccessful. In his last attempt, he was found before completing the act and eventually came back to the Aspire Center.

“That was my turning point in my recovery,” Randy said. “I knew that I was sick, but I had a fight-or-flight instinct. I was fighting for my way of dealing with things…alone. I didn’t have an honest way of dealing with problems, so I broke down and fell apart. It all happened in the worst way.”

Randy ended up in the mental health inpatient unit at the San Diego VA Medical Center to receive a higher level of care for what he was going through at that moment. It was restrictive but stripped down the layers and allowed him to focus on what was going on in his head and in his life. In the context of that environment, he could see what an opportunity the Aspire Center was in supporting his recovery. Randy realized his mistake and wrote letters to the Aspire Center staff, pleading for readmission.

“I haven’t had that kind of care my whole life.”

In the meantime, he had ASPIRE staff and Veterans visit him on a regular basis at the inpatient unit, which felt reassuring in an odd way. “I’m from Arizona, and here I am in California, and people are checking in on me. Nobody knows me. Why would someone care about me? I haven’t had that kind of care my whole life,” Randy said.

After careful consideration and monitoring of his progress to see if it was appropriate for Randy to return, the Aspire Center staff invited him back. “It was a big decision as a team because we had uncertainties based on his past,” Dr. Le said. “Through medication management to target his impulsivity, intensive psychotherapy and amazing staff support, the rest is history in terms of his growth and progress acquiring the tools to integrate back into society,” he added.

Now with support from the Aspire Center, Randy plans on attending a trade school. He has helped with housing through social work’s HUD/VASH program and is volunteering heavily in the community. He’s also continuing with meetings and further care to help him transition. “Here is an individual who was lost and now has found meaning and purpose to his life,” Dr. Le said.

Most importantly in his recovery, Randy has made progress in getting to see what gives him the most hope: his daughters. When he entered the program, Randy had doubts on whether he would ever see them again. Through a new attorney, he now has increased access by phone and visitation, a process he hopes will evolve as time goes on.

September 9 – 15 was Suicide Prevention Week. If you know a Veteran who may be having an emotional crisis, get them the help they need by calling 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for Veterans.


About the author: Christopher Menzie is a Public Affairs Specialist with the VA San Diego Healthcare 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. Lynn Marie Robertson    

    What a wonderful story about Randy finding hope through the inspiration, encouragement and compassion of the Aspire team.
    I’m so happy for him that he wasn’t denied admission into the program after running away from it the first time. He just wasn’t ready then and perhaps was in denial. Some of us are just reluctant to accept help until we reach a crisis point in our lives. Finally he realized the desperation confronting him and, thank God he was readmitted into the Aspire program. I’m so thankful for the VA mental health programs that so many veterans, myself included, find the care and support we need. God bless you Randy and may you have the fulfilling life you deserve.
    Also, a big thank you to the Aspire program for not giving up on him.

  2. PAUL TENENBAUM    

    TO THE V.A. AND THE D.o.D.:
    IF RANDY ELSTON HAD NOT ATTEMPTED TO END HIS LIFE BUT CARRIED ON IN BEARING AS MUCH AS HE COULD, WHAT YES WHAT WOULD THE ARMY AND THE V.A. DONE? N O T H I N G !!!!!
    i returned in 1953 being injured in the Korean WAR. NOTE, Gentlemen of the US ARMY AND VA. DESPITE THE FACT THAT THIS TOOK BUT MENTIONED WHEN THERE IS AN ANNIVERSARY… OH YES, NO SOLDIERS WERE WOUNDED, VISIBLY OR NOT. BUT LEFT WITH T. B .I. ANYWAY AS IN MY CASE. THE ARMY NOW STATES THAT THERE WAS NO METHODOLOY IN 1952. JUST IMAGINE THE TEMERITY OF THE COLONEL WHO WROTE THIS NONSENSE EXPLOSIONS NOW CALLED BLASTS HAVE EXISTED SINCE TBE 12TH CENTURY BY THE CHINESE
    WHO INVENTED THE GUN POWDER.DOES THE ARMY RECALL THE “SHELL SHOCKED SOLDIERS IN ALL THE ENSUING WARS : 1860’s,1914 1941 1950…….. yes the KOREAN WAR. MY TBI IS NOT RECOGNIZED BECAUSE WE DID NOT CALL FOR AN OFFICER. WHY NOT??? well NO ONE KNEW THIS REQUIREMENT.
    I HAVE REOUGHLY 90% of the TBI SYMPTONS. I WOULD LIKE TO NEAR FROM D.o.D

    1. Veterans Health Administration    

      Paul, thank you for your incredible service to our country. If you are interested in applying for VA disability benefits, visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/apply.asp for more information or call 1-800-827-1000. If you would like to get screened to receive treatment through your local VA Medical Center or community health providers at VA’s expense, please contact your nearest VA Medical Center and visit https://www.polytrauma.va.gov/understanding-tbi/index.asp for more information.

  3. Crotalus    

    I’m just treated like the least important entity on the treatment team, my questions NOT worth answering. Because I’m the “wrong sex” I’m wrongly presumed to be Borderline Personality Diagnosis – historic sexist crap.

    Does anyone in VA care/want to know what’s going on for me that set me off the cliff? hell ho – they make up their own story and write it in my VA medical records. So now everyone gets to read distorted garbage that says almost nothing truthful about me

    Being a female in the VA is torture and very damaging, especially the mental health system which forces me into a suicidal promotion program, so I just refuse to cooperate – no one in VA has cared about my MH needs for almost a decade in VISN 20

  4. August    

    The Aspire Center is all mandatory 12-Step religious AA/NA cult & “Jesus Save” brainwashing, Any veteran that refuses that nonsense is thrown to the streets.

    1. Chantele Monares    

      No it’s not at all, it’s a PTSD program.

    2. Chantele Monares    

      I have always had excellent care and I am a female

  5. Chantele Monares    

    Hey Randy,

    This is Chantele Monares…the Female that was there and saved your life finding you off of pure instinct…I hope all is well. I miss you and I am glad that the program worked for you and it did me. I M still sober over 400 days and I can about things I am going through. Aspire taught me a lot about myself although there were many ups and downs but that’s the part of recovery. I still don’t have a house or anything but I am working on it. I now reside in Los Angeles and I love it. Been staying busy and just enjoying this new life. I didn’t know you were going to post a story I remember you had told me not (sure wasn’t a good time) but that’s pretty neat.

    If you get this please get in contact with me so we can talk.

  6. Dalphine Watson    

    Unbelievable I can’t even get a mental Health appointment. Waited 2 months to get an appointment then went to the appointment August 30 only to find out that the Doctor didn’t show up. Reschedule appointment October 21, 2018. This is how they take care of us. I suffer from PTSD and major depression and I can’t get that. Contacted Patient Advocate and they could not help. Thanks for appreciating my service to my country

  7. John M. Grenier    

    I was admitted into the va psych emergency room and once they heard I was bpd…I think that I was into just the drama…from the facial expressions of the nurse and doctor.. I have had several sucide attempts. good luck.

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