Post by Steve Nelson, Amicus Communications Director
It is easy to put veterans of military service on a pedestal, but what happens when they fall off?
Chris Green took that fall, and while he never wants to see the pedestal again, he’d like to help others get back on their feet.
The son of a District Attorney and a clinical psychologist, Chris felt the pressure of high family expectations and sought to escape those expectations by joining the military.
He was successful and rose relatively quickly through the ranks. He became a Staff Sergeant specializing in combat engineering in the Marine Corps, and in charge of 42 people.
Like many though, his military service and multiple deployments took a toll on his private life.
At his wife’s urging, he transferred to Minnesota to be closer to her and eventually left the military entirely, taking a job at a private sector engineering firm. He was laid off from that job in 2008 at the beginning of the global recession.
The downward spiral got more intense, as Chris went through a divorce, was unable to find steady employment in his field, and lost his apartment. Then his car broke down, and without transportation, work became even more scarce.
“I tried everything I could to support myself and it still wasn’t enough,” Chris recalled of the time.
“I was dealing with a lot of loss. I wasn’t a soldier. I wasn’t a husband. I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
By spring of 2009, he had sunk into a deep depression, having difficulty getting out of bed and thinking about suicide.
“In my brain it was either (suicide) or try to get into a better situation. When your mind is broken it seems like the only options are ones that put you in bad situations.”
His “solution,” was dramatic and life-changing. He borrowed his brother’s car, drove to St. Paul Park, Minnesota and robbed a local bank. Chris’ car was identified by law enforcement though and a chase ended in a car crash and arrest.
Chris spent the next two and a half years at a Federal Correctional Institution in Ft. Worth, Texas determined to prove to himself and others that there was more to him than his actions the day of the bank robbery. He was released in March of 2012.
He used his bus ticket to travel back to Minnesota, landing at a Volunteers of America Residential Reentry Center in Roseville with no clothing other than a pair of jeans and t-shirt. He had saved $200 which he eventually received from the Federal authorities, but couldn’t cash it because he didn’t have identification.
But Chris had learned a valuable lesson in his years in the justice system – how to ask for help. Staff at the VOA suggested he contact the Veterans Justice Advocate at the new Amicus Veterans Justice Program.
The Advocate met with Chris, connecting him to further housing resources and giving him a contact at Metropolitan State University. Chris learned that his status as a veteran entitles him to assistance with educational costs as well as food and housing allowances if he is enrolled in college fulltime.
When Chris mentioned his need for additional clothing the Advocate went home and found Chris some of his own clothes.
“To see that someone cares enough to literally offer the shirt off his back. That says something,” Chris noted.
“A big issue that I had before was not asking for help. I had too much pride. I’m learning that people who see you motivated to improve are more likely to help you get where you want to go.”
Chris is now enrolled in school fulltime, studying psychology.
“I’d like to counsel other veterans, let them know about the resources available to them if they just know to ask for them,” Chris said.
He advises people who want to support someone going through depression to be patient while an individual gets to a point in which he’s ready to talk and then to be available when that time comes.
“While I was in that situation I don’t think there was anything that anyone could have told me that would help. I was just in too dark of a place. But eventually, when the timing is right, make sure you’re there.”
It’s still a long road back, but Chris is optimistic about his future. He’d prefer not to climb back on the pedestal as a hero though. He just wants to be seen as someone who can be a valuable part of the community.
“One thing I’d like people to know is that change is possible. For just one person to turn their life around, that proves it.”