Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012 2:53 pm | Updated: 2:55 pm, Sat Jul 21, 2012.
By SHANNA SISSOM | Herald Managing Editor |0 comments
After his leg was blown off during an ambush in Iraq, Sgt. Mike Meinen had to cope with the stress of war long after his body healed.
“You think you might get bumps and bruises, maybe a bullet hole or come home in a box,” Meinen explained. “But no one really thinks you’re going to become an amputee.”
With a prosthetic, Meinen is perfectly mobile after the 2003 rocket-propelled grenade attack that also blew off the legs of two other soldiers.
But it’s post traumatic stress disorder he still copes with almost daily, an affliction that until recent years hasn’t been widely discussed. Meinen, who lives in Amarillo but will soon moving to Big Spring to become chief of prosthetics at the Veterans Administration Hospital, was hosted by Area Health Education Center of the Plains to speak in Plainview about PTSD late last week.
“I get hot and sweaty, my heart rate goes through the roof, but it’s different for everybody,” Meinen explained during an interview with the Herald.
Its symptoms can arise without notice but may be triggered by sights, sounds and smells. As a result, Meinen avoids action movies, particularly those relating to war, and fireworks.
“Some guys don’t watch action movies anymore,” he said of those living with PTSD.
Some days are better than others.
“You get in a situation that’s stressful for you and you revert back to just taking over, using whatever force is necessary,” he said. “You may not become violent, but a dominating personality.”
For example, Meinen’s fiancee doesn’t like the way he drives, as he tried to explain.
“I tend to speed subconsciously, it’s like you’re on a long, flat highway and you know going faster is safer than going slow, and subconsciously you’re worried about IEDs (improvised explosive devices), ambushes and things like that,” he said. “I know I’m back stateside, but subconsciously you don’t feel safe, you want to speed up and it’s kind of a weird reaction you get.”
When Meinen returned from Iraq in 2003, he said treatment for PTSD was “sketchy.”
“No one knew how to confront a soldier with mental health,” he recalled. “But I think the VA and outside health care systems have gone to great strides to help these guys and gals, and to take baby steps with them at first.”
Noting that, for the first time in American history, 90-percent of wounded soldiers survive their injuries, AHEC of the Plains hosted “Serving Those Who Have Served,” Thursday.
Meinen said he was glad to speak at the event and share his story.
“It’s nice to be able to get out there, talk to health care professionals,” he said. “You can’t get all the information you need out of a book.”