Pilar Rodriguez Reyes
Imagine yourself with no military experience and you hear someone say, “I have served 12 years in the Army National Guard.” You wouldn’t think that he or she would have left the United States during their service. But this is not the case for New Directions for Veterans (NDVets) Participant Sgt. Pilar Rodriguez Reyes, who enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2003 and completed overseas tours in countries like Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Born in Mexico, Pilar moved to the United States in 1999. After graduating from high school, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as a way to “pay back the US” for allowing him to live here. Unfortunately, he wasn’t medically qualified to join. A few years later, he received mail from the National Guard and he said to himself, “Ok. Why not?” He could be a citizen soldier and still be at his parents’ side to help them.
Being a self-taught and skilled cook, as well as a trained heavy equipment operator, Pilar was a qualified soldier to be deployed overseas. He served in multiple scenarios overseas, and saw disturbing situations and other pretty rough stuff that began to take “a part of him.” He stopped feeling like himself, even to the point that he lost a lot of weight. Also, his relationship with his wife was suffering a downfall due to the distance and other factors.
When he came back from Iraq, his mood had changed, he barely ate or slept, so he went to a VA hospital for help. An intern told him, “Sounds to me like there are no issues with you. You can go back to work.” But he didn’t feel normal and didn’t know how he could be of any help to his family in his current state without any help.
Soon after, Pilar separated from his wife. He looked for a way to get his life back to the point that he tried going back to school for Criminal Justice, and moved back in with his parents to help out as much as he could. After a while, he got remarried and felt like he was doing better. But, on his birthday in 2011, he received a call to go to Afghanistan and his flight was leaving in seven hours.
During his time overseas, he lost contact with his wife and things didn’t go right when he returned home. After separating, he started drinking too much and fell into depression. He started living in his car, working during the day and showering at a 24-hour gym. One day, after the news of a friend’s death, he went on a drinking binge to the point that he blacked out. He doesn’t remember anything, but it resulted in jail and probation. Released from jail with conditions, he kept living on the streets and tried to survive.
After a while, he had another legal issue that resulted in a probation violation and more jail time. This time the repercussions were more serious. While in jail, he was unable to support his parents causing them to lose their home. He lost his car, house, and almost all of his personal belongings.
The Veterans Court, with the aid of his lawyer and VA liaison, helped him find NDVets rather than spending more time in jail. NDVets gave Pilar a moment to realize there could be a tomorrow.
The NDVets program has helped him to feel comfort by being around other veterans with the same problems. He knows he’s not alone anymore and he’s not the only one learning how to cope. By working with NDVets clinicians, case managers, and staff, he has learned how to recognize his own triggers, issues, and walk away from certain situations.
Today, Pilar is able to work two part-time jobs to help support his parents, but wants to do more and hopes to find something better. His attitude is upbeat because he knows the possibility of greatness is out there for him. While he still struggles with sleeping and other battles, he keeps himself focused on where he wants to go and who he wants to be.
He shared this advice for anyone else going through the program and everyone else reading this, “Sometimes you have to leave your pride outside the door and forget where you came from. If you want to succeed, you have to let yourself be reached. Forget about your past, don’t think about the now, but look toward tomorrow. Don’t think about how much money you made in the past. Forget everything and watch how some basic tools can show you and turn you into a better person.”