A Soldier’s Last Mission, A Medic’s Battle For Survival….and Sharon Helman’s Albatross

  Note: Much of this blog posting was taken directly from an article written by Dennis Wagner that was published in the Arizona Republic Sunday August 14, 2014.

The following incidents directly involved former Chief Administrator at the Carl T Hayden VA Medical Center Sharon Helman as she was made aware of the difficulties that veterans were having accessing mental health care they needed to help them with their PTSD and other mental health care concerns.


Sharon Helman was fired from her post as the VA scandal continued to evolve throughout 2014. She is currently trying to get her job back at the VA Medical Center and her legal team is petitioning the court to be able to do so.

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Brian Mancini served 13 years as a U.S. Army medic and was on a 2nd combat tour when a roadside bomb blew up his military career in 2007.

Mancini says he spent more than 3 ½ years at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “Getting my face rebuilt” and undergoing therapy. He returned to Arizona with 2 purple hearts, posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, a missing eye, chronic pain, and a titanium plate in his head.


As Mancini sees it now, America is afflicted by a delayed casualty syndrome. During the Vietnam War, the ratio of combat fatalities to nonfatal wounds was 1 to 2.6. In Iraq and Afghanistan due to improved armaments and medical technology, just one of 17 casualties is fatal. But many survivors are haunted for life by PTSD and concussive brain injuries from improvised explosive devices.


In Phoenix, Mancini says he turned to the VA Medical Center and immediately learned that his cocktail of medications, which took years to perfect that the Army hospital, was not on the official formulary, so he would have to start over. He found himself waiting interminably for appointments, unable to get approval of outside acupuncture and chiropractic treatments for agonizing headaches and other pain.

“There was a really dark time in my life when I literally just lay on the floor in my house crying,” Mancini recalls. “I just was really frustrated with the lack of care. I felt betrayed. All they wanted to do was throw a lot of drugs at me, and those drugs were having an adverse effect. They had me on 12 medications. At one point I finally said, you know what I’m done.”

Mancini says he decided to use his medical background to develop an alternative treatment regimen with therapies available in the community: from brain training, to yoga, to fly-fishing. He wrote up a handbook and founded an Arizona nonprofit known as Honor House, then arranged a presentation to Phoenix VA Healthcare Systems Director Sharon Helman 2 years ago. The session did not go well. He recalls. “She was more appeasing me than anything.”

Mancini turned next to Terros, Inc., a community health care organization that focuses on inspirational life changes. Terros adopted the treatment program and lost a pilot effort, then joined in the 2nd attempt to get Phoenix VA involved.

This time, Mancini says, Helman who now faced termination in connection with alleged mismanagement at the Phoenix VA reacted defensively.

“I emphasized the need to go out of network to get veterans the services they so desperately needed regarding PTSD. He wrote in an email, “I specifically commented on the ridiculous wait times and presented a solution with very little interest on her part.”


Later that same year, Helman would find herself intertwined with the death of another soldier who had been desperately trying to get mental health care. His name: Daniel Somers. He took his own life the summer of June 2013 after losing the battle of his life against PTSD.

Jean and Howard Somers said their son Daniel went to the Phoenix VA Emergency Room seeking hospital admission, where he was told there were no beds available. He lay on the floor weeping and pleading for help. “There was no effort made to see if he could be admitted to another facility,” his father recalled. “But he was told: you can stay here and when you feel better. You can drive yourself home.”


(I wonder was this possibly an ER nurse who told him he could just lay there and go home when he felt better??? Who had the authority, audacity, and lack of human compassion to watch a soldier curled up on the floor in a tortuous state suffer, weep, and beg for help, and then advise him to go home whenever he felt ok? No one ever identified the staffer who allowed him to go….)


Daniel Somer’s parents said they had met with Sharon Helman after their son’s death and were informed that wait times for mental health care had dramatically improved. They have since learned that VA patient access records were a fiction. They don’t even know if Daniel’s final act was counted in the Phoenix to be a suicide tally. “It’s like with any statistics out of the VA,” Howard Summers said. “What data are they using? Where did they get the numbers? All we can think is, we were being lied to, like everyone else.” The couple testified before Congress last month and created a reform plan for VA suicide prevention. They also have done the math: if 22 veterans kill themselves daily, and the number has been constant for years, more than 100,000 men and women who served America have taken their own lives since 2001. That’s roughly 15 times the number of US military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.”



Daniel Somers was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was part of Task Force Lightning, an intelligence unit. In 2004-2005, he was mainly assigned to a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq, where he ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects. In 2006-2007, Daniel worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) through his former unit in Mosul where he ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center. His official role was as a senior analyst for the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and part of Turkey). Daniel suffered greatly from PTSD and had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and several other war-related conditions. On June 10, 2013, Daniel wrote the following letter to his family before taking his life. Daniel was 30 years old. His wife and family have given permission to publish it:

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“I am sorry that it has come to this.”

….The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on. The fact is, I am not getting better, I am not going to get better, and I will most certainly deteriorate further as time goes on. From a logical standpoint, it is better to simply end things quickly and let any repercussions from that play out in the short term than to drag things out into the long term.

You will perhaps be sad for a time, but over time you will forget and begin to carry on. Far better that than to inflict my growing misery upon you for years and decades to come, dragging you down with me. It is because I love you that I cannot do this to you. You will come to see that it is a far better thing as one day after another passes during which you do not have to worry about me or even give me a second thought. You will find that your world is better without me in it.

I really have been trying to hang on, for more than a decade now. Each day has been a testament to the extent to which I cared, suffering unspeakable horror as quietly as possible so that you could feel as though I was still here for you. In truth, I was nothing more than a prop, filling space so that my absence would not be noted. In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time.

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again.

Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.

You must not blame yourself. The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply cannot come back from. I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.

To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing cover-up is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

Beyond that, there are the host of physical illnesses that have struck me down again and again, for which they also offer no help. There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to. Further complicating matters is the repeated and severe brain injuries to which I was subjected, which they also seem to be expending no effort into understanding. What is known is that each of these should have been cause enough for immediate medical attention, which was not rendered.

Lastly, the DEA enters the picture again as they have now managed to create such a culture of fear in the medical community that doctors are too scared to even take the necessary steps to control the symptoms. All under the guise of a completely manufactured “overprescribing epidemic,” which stands in stark relief to all of the legitimate research, which shows the opposite to be true. Perhaps, with the right medication at the right doses, I could have bought a couple of decent years, but even that is too much to ask from a regime built upon the idea that suffering is noble and relief is just for the weak.

However, when the challenges facing a person are already so great that all but the weakest would give up, these extra factors are enough to push a person over the edge.

Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.

It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.

And for what? Bush’s religious lunacy? Cheney’s ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for

Since then, I have tried everything to fill the void. I tried to move into a position of greater power and influence to try and right some of the wrongs. I deployed again, where I put a huge emphasis on saving lives. The fact of the matter, though, is that any new lives saved do not replace those who were murdered. It is an exercise in futility.

Then, I pursued replacing destruction with creation. For a time this provided a distraction, but it could not last. The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand. How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle? If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so.

I thought perhaps I could make some headway with this film project, maybe even directly appealing to those I had wronged and exposing a greater truth, but that is also now being taken away from me. I fear that, just as with everything else that requires the involvement of people who cannot understand by virtue of never having been there, it is going to fall apart as careers get in the way.

The last thought that has occurred to me is one of some kind of final mission.

It is true that I have found that I am capable of finding some kind of reprieve by doing things that are worthwhile on the scale of life and death. While it is a nice thought to consider doing some good with my skills, experience, and killer instinct, the truth is that it isn’t realistic. First, there are the logistics of financing and equipping my own operation, then there is the near certainty of a grisly death, international incidents, and being branded a terrorist in the media that would follow. What is really stopping me, though, is that I simply am too sick to be effective in the field anymore. That, too, has been taken from me.

Thus, I am left with basically nothing.

Too trapped in a war to be at peace…too damaged to be at war.

Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out—and thus deserve better. So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it.

This is what brought me to my actual final mission.

Not suicide, but a mercy killing. I know how to kill, and I know how to do it so that there is no pain whatsoever. It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free. I feel no more pain. I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations. I am no longer constantly depressed or afraid or worried….

I am free.

I ask that you be happy for me for that.

It is perhaps the best break I could have hoped for.

Please accept this and be glad for me.

Daniel Somers


What troubles me about Arizona are two things: The media and the State Legislature. Change is dictated by what is sexy and profitable at the moment, by what gets ratings or soundbite opportunities for journalists and lawmakers. Journalists get prestigious awards, lawmakers get voters and win elections. But the problem stays a problem. PEOPLE ARE STILL DYING. We don’t work together and pool resources to make change happen in this state. There is no cohesive effort that binds together the talents of “award winning” journalists, experienced intelligent lawmakers, healthcare agencies, and the citizens of Arizona affected by the problems. Everyone does their own thing…..each with a means to an end in their own mind. In all of that—the important stuff gets lost somewhere along the way.

     The journalists love to drop the bomb, they make us aware of the travesties and the injustices occurring, people get mad….….and then they silently walk away like their job is done. Like somehow, because they brought light to the issue, it will magically correct itself and go away. WHY NOT KEEP THE ISSUES FRONT AND CENTER?!!!! Legislators will often posture and pace behind podiums and microphones making strong, passionate declarations and demands in front of the flashing lights and microphones…..but when it comes time to walk the talk on the House Floor…what has actually been done? I reference Veteran Health and Patient Safety as just two examples of major issues that have been brought forward in the past two years on many a newscast…..and still, we are losing Vets. Still, we AS A STATE, are failing to rescue.

See, everyone likes to talk about the problem, and around the problem, and what could potentially be done to attack a problem….but as the media attention fades, the legislators go back to fighting about other issues such as who can use a public toilet and who can’t……and people go back their own lives and forget about Brian Mancini and Daniel Somers…the urgency and impetus for change dissipates.

There is no longer this life or death need to get up and do something to prevent another soldier from dying, to prevent the loss of another wife, mother, daughter, husband, father, son….friend. Lawmakers go back to other things like immigration or education….and the mountain toward change gets harder to climb, dangerously steeper. The terrain becomes that much more complex to overcome. If you are a soldier with PTSD, you know that every day the terrain is difficult and often times unpredictable to navigate. In fact, there are some days you have no desire to even try.

This is not YOUR MISSION.

It is ours….

Or, at least, it should be.

     Without the help of concerned citizens, activists, lawmakers, journalists, and healthcare agencies these Veterans cannot get the job done themselves…AND THE POINT IS—they shouldn’t have to. Because it is our turn now. Whether we like it or not, our draft card has been pulled and it’s our turn to figure out what the battle plan should be. It’s our turn to put on the gear and do the work. It’s our turn to protect and serve THEM.

….And we’re doing a pretty crappy job.

In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say– WE…..are failing THEM.



 “It Matters.”

Amanda L. Trujillo, BS-MSN

Director of Nurse and Patient Advocacy

Humanitarian Advocate Coalition

Phoenix, Arizona


The Holidays….as the Daughter of a VietNam Veteran

*** WARNING: IF YOU ARE A ‘NORMAL AVERAGE VIETNAM VET’ this blog DOES NOT apply to you. So proceed accordingly. For you out there who told me that you ‘HOPE IM ENJOYING THE FREEDOMS YOU FOUGHT FOR OVER THERE’ —This Blog site is evidence of that. Telling me to hold my tongue and my words for ‘the therapist’ instead of writing them online–I dare say that would be a direct contradiction of exercising my freedom of expression and my freedom to try and help people. I am truly sorry I don’t know more ‘normal average vets’ like you. But this blog is not meant to LUMP ALL VETS TOGETHER. Id like to make that clear at this moment. It is meant for the ones in pain, both vets and their children. Again, if it doesn’t apply to you—don’t read it. Thank You.******


“So he’s still alive. It feels like a dead check, he answered the phone. So, Dad, Merry Christmas! You don’t know what holidays or birthdays are all about. Your pissed off at me, and the world, and your place in it. I can feel the dread and dead in your voice. Your voice a strangled and hoarse version of your younger days, when you were Elvis. Singing in bars, falling in love with girls. Before the crummy war.

So yeah, your still around, for whatever reason…”


This is a public posting  I stumbled across, and  was written by, the daughter of a Viet Nam Veteran. I felt in her words the anguish, loneliness, anger, confusion, hopelessness, and misunderstanding that have built up…probably a few decades over. I felt the gap of an ocean…or two….between her and her father. I was so moved, so touched by her honesty and the reality from which it came from that I wanted to share it….but I also wanted to share “the other side” too. Because, I have been on both sides of the line. I have felt that resentment and anger…..and I have discovered forgiveness and healing through what I believe—and there is no other way to put it— was a miracle. I am posting this to help other children of Viet Nam Veterans, to give them some kind of hope that somewhere inside their fathers–really deep inside there—is a father who just needs to know that the hand is out, your hand and a tiny part of your heart willing to take the chance of allowing them in.

This post breaks my heart, because it sounds like me a few years ago with my father until I came across a video in which he was interviewed about Vietnam for some Latino historical society in Texas dedicated to memorializing Latinos in the Viet Nam War….. Until I saw that video I never understood why……but then I finally “got it”….. My father didn’t ask for who he used to be as a person to die there in Vietnam. He didn’t choose to come home the person he was. He didn’t choose to become the parent he was to me, and only now has he been able to acknowledge how painful life was with him as I grew up and how it has affected me as a person today….

He  came home from Vietnam with TBI and PTSD but my father didn’t accept help until recent years……it’s taken him decades to tell me, how sorry he is and that this wasn’t the father he dreamed of being and that he knew he was never going to be his true self again BEFORE even leaving Nam. I was the one that seemed to be the focus of his blow ups, the first born, the only one of three children never afraid to go nose to nose with him and stand up to him but with that came a lot of emotional trauma. Since seeing the DVD….I have forgiven him and told him I RELEASE HIM from carrying that burden— That I accept him for where he is and who he is at this moment.    Had I not seen his interview…. I’d still hate and despise him today


My best advice to any child of a Vietnam Veteran…… Meet them where they are today…. And not who you wish they were yesterday……that’s the healing place to start. This is a sickness. These men and women have been exposed to numerous chemicals that forever altered their brain function. They were injured from bombs and combat loss they never processed….couple that with the shock of coming home to their home soil and being spit on and called murderers and shunned from society— it forever damaged men who truly wanted to be good people…and loving attentive husbands and fathers……many of whom now sit in the darkest corners alone,  holding on for dear life to a tiny thread of hope that tomorrow will be the day the flashbacks stop, that they will stop hearing radio transmissions over and over…. Or seeing the constant replaying of the violent deaths of their comrades whom they believe they “should have, could have saved” but failed to……and carrying the burden of failing as fathers and husbands…

To anonymous….I know your pain, I lived it all my life…. I still do when he blows up at me from time to time….but I also know these men need, and are desperate for some light and hope. Try to forgive him.   Truly— he knows not what he has done, he may not even “see” what he has done….Because he is so stuck in yesterday…..

The daughter who was brave enough to share her pain and a snapshot into her heart….she is many of us and in a place many of us have been…..she has not found forgiveness yet because she hasn’t truly seen through her father’s eyes what he experienced and what it was like for him. I truly believe, like me, she NEEDS that piece in order to take the steps forward toward forgiveness and finding a new normal and a new relationship with her father. Perhaps, in her own time and in her own way she will forgive him before he dies….because I guarantee you, it’s the one thing many of these vets want most before death—-light, warmth, acceptance, and the peace of forgiveness…..maybe not understanding…..but the forgiveness of those they never meant to and never wanted to hurt the most.

This much I know for sure….the Veteran referred to in the post above died already…back in Vietnam, so many decades ago. The greatest gift we can give these men and women is the gift of holding out a hand to them and never letting go, so that they know they belong somewhere in the present…..




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