How One Veteran is Saving Lives Back Home

Zach Skiles wants to help other veterans cope with the trauma of war.

Zach SkilesCourtesy of Zach Skiles/The Christian Science Monitor

Zach Skiles lost four of his buddies while serving as a Marine in Iraq. For years, he struggled to deal with his trauma, often relying on alcohol and marijuana to cope. He finally admitted he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after checking into a residential treatment program in California’s Napa Valley.

Skiles spent four months of 2010 at the Pathway Home, an intensive program that helps veterans come to grips with PTSD. The experience changed him—and led him to a life of helping others. Stiles now counsels vets at a VA clinic in Martinez, California, and says that his background allows him to connect with others dealing with self-blame, survivor’s guilt, and unresolved anger.

His determination to help grew even more last year, when a vet killed himself and three clinicians at Pathway. The program has been closed ever since.

“Some people see what happened as a reason to turn away from veterans,” Skiles told the Christian Science Monitor. “To me, it showed exactly why these programs are important.”

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  • Another way. In one hospital, Walker Hughes was pinned to the floor, screaming. In another instance, he was handcuffed to a bed. So in December, when the normally gentle autistic man was approached by public safety officers in a hospital emergency room, his mother, Ellen, feared the worst. But Sergeant Keith Miller, on duty that night at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, tried something different. He and his team first sought to understand Walker, who was having an adverse reaction to medication. Then they sang James Brown songs and the theme to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” They danced. For two and a half hours, Miller’s team helped calm Walker, who is 33 years old. Miller credits his approach to having an autistic son of his own, and he is trying to teach other hospital officers similar techniques. “Walker loved it,” said Ellen. “We’ve been to the doctor and the hospitals a million times and I’ve never seen anything like these guys.” Thanks to Recharge readers Karen Weintraub and Ilyse Levine-Kanji for the story suggestion. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Stepping in and stepping up. Todd Morrison could not stand by while the parents and guardians of his students were rounded up in immigration raids. A superintendent for the Honey Grove Independent School District in Texas, Morrison accompanied families to court appearances and made sure counselors were available to help. He also raised money to pay for gas and electric bills, groceries, and doctor appointments. “These families are great Honey Grove parents and families,” Morrison said. “They are pillars of our community.” (Hechinger Report)
  • “Whose future? Our future.” Defying threats of detention, thousands of British teens skipped school Friday to call for action on climate change. “We’re passionate, articulate and we’re ready to continue demonstrating the need for urgent and radical climate action,” said Anna Taylor, 17. The protests have taken place for weeks throughout Europe, with tens of thousands of teens participating. The movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a teenager who held a solo protest outside the Swedish parliament in August. (The Guardian)
  • Paying it forward. A church in Alexandria, Virginia, donated $100,000 to Howard University earlier this month, helping to pay off remaining fees and debts for 34 seniors. “I thought, ‘What better way to celebrate Black History Month than investing in the young, black heroes of HBCUs?’” said the Rev. Marc Lavarin, of Alfred Street Baptist Church. “They have lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders,” said senior Mya Thompson, who owed about $2,500. The church also donated $50,000 to help Bennett College, one of the last two women’s HBCUs, stay open. (Washington Post)

Have a Recharge story of your own or an idea to make this column better? Fill out the form below or send me a note at recharge@motherjones.com.

This post has been updated. 

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