Veteran Friends Are Key for Unlocking Doors to Healing
Friendship Day is Aug. 2
Frankie Perez is outgoing and passionate about his work. David Camacho is easygoing and identifies with a slightly older generation. But there’s an important thing that brings them together: their experience as Army veterans.
They met while participating in programs hosted by Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) in Florida and Puerto Rico, built a supportive friendship, and welcomed other veterans into the fold.
“We clicked together when we met,” David said. “Frankie is a great leader, and I admire him as a veteran advocate and professional.”
Frankie remembers he first heard about WWP because David dropped off brochures at the VA facility in Puerto Rico. He also recalls a personal visit from David when he needed a friend to chat with — and the fact that David took the time to sit down to have a cafecito with him.
It’s common for veterans to cherish the camaraderie of interactions with other veterans. In fact, socializing with other veterans helps warriors connect with the support network they need. In a WWP survey of the wounded warriors it serves, more than two in five (41%) expressed they talk with fellow veterans to address their mental health concerns.
Frankie makes time for other veterans through the challenges of a busy family agenda, charity and nonprofit work through his foundation, and his schoolwork. He founded Post Traumatic Arts Foundation in Puerto Rico to bring awareness to the needs of island veterans, who have few sources of support on the island outside of the local VA hospital.
David served 21 years in the Army and eventually became active in WWP cycling events — on the island and stateside — as well as mental health workshops and peer support groups. When local veterans cannot meet in person, his peer support group members stay in touch via WhatsApp, FaceTime, email, and social media.
“Peer support is an important way to vent concerns in an environment of respect,” David said. “I was one of the soldiers who was carried off the field wounded. One of my fellow soldiers saved my life. He’s a sergeant major today, and we still stay in touch. I enjoy talking with fellow soldiers and staying in touch. We’re like brothers.”
David said although physical distance is necessary right now to prevent COVID-19 infection, it’s important to continue to connect with each other. “Connect with someone you trust, and express how you feel,” David advises.
For both Frankie and David, developing a support network of other veterans with similar experiences was akin to building a new family.
“I’m grateful to Wounded Warrior Project for allowing me to try new things and for helping me realize that I can still continue to pursue life — that life doesn’t end with your military career,” David said.
Frankie looks forward to projects that bring awareness to the needs of veterans in Puerto Rico, especially through his foundation. He’s grateful for a second chance and keenly aware of the importance of communicating his feelings to the people around him.
“When I returned from my first deployment in 2004, I was diagnosed with depression,” Frankie said. “I continued to struggle until my suicide attempt in 2008. I learned to accept help. Being willing to accept your mistakes is one of the most difficult things for a human being. I understand that if I work on my issues, eventually everyone around me will benefit.”
In peer support meetings with other veterans, Frankie realized that others had gone through similar struggles. “At the end of the day, you realize that you’re looking into a mirror and that a stretch of your journey has a lot in common with someone else’s journey,” Frankie said. The support he received from fellow veterans like David encouraged Frankie to move forward with his nonprofit and give back to other veterans and his community.
Having a supportive network of veterans helps make the transition easier and long-term care more manageable. “You reach out, and eventually someone is going to carry you,” Frankie said. “Today I carry you, tomorrow you might be carrying me, like the yin and yang expressed in the Wounded Warrior Project logo with one soldier carrying another off the field.”
Click here to start connecting with other veterans and military families.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.