Listen to Jeff talk about the Army and you’ll understand why he was so devastated when his time in the military was cut short in 2004.
“My military service gave me focus, physically and mentally, that I didn’t have growing up,” he said. “It gave me belonging to a group of people who were all in the same situation and had a shared purpose.”
He wanted to stay in “as long as possible,” he admitted. But after eight years, he was diagnosed with a heart condition that forced him to separate from the Army.
“My transition out was very harsh,” he said. “Because of the way my service ended, I was very skeptical and angry about anything that had to do with the military.”
A decade later, those emotions were still present when he met Kaitlin in 2014. Four years later, the pair got married.
This wouldn’t be the only significant event that occurred for Jeff and Kaitlin in 2018. That same year, they were introduced to Heroes In Transition (HIT) after attending a family party in Sandwich, that Kristen and John Alexander were also at.
The Alexanders, who organize our outings for military couples, for veterans and service members, and for military spouses, encouraged Jeff and Kaitlin to get involved in HIT’s programs. On a summer day four years ago, Jeff did exactly that, joining eight other veterans on a hike of the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton.
During their honeymoon in September, Kaitlin and Jeff made the trek from their home in Mansfield to Cape Cod, going mini-golfing as part of a HIT outing for military couples. And a month later, they attended their first Couples Retreat, spending two days working on strengthening their relationship while connecting with others who understood the challenges that come with military life.
“Those were kind of the icebreakers that got me back involved with anything to do with the military and actually drove me to go to the VA and to seek care,” Jeff said.
It was at that first retreat when Jeff realized he had suffered from survivor’s guilt during a discussion with the Alexanders. After he left the military, two of Jeff’s best friends were deployed to Afghanistan; one of them died in combat. “He never dealt with the fact that one of them died,” Kaitlin said. “He had this conflict that he should have done something, that he should have been in that unit.
“It was earth shattering that somebody could label that for him – what that feeling was,” Kaitlin continued. “And to say to him, ‘It’s okay that you feel that way, but you probably couldn’t have done anything to save them.’”
Life-changing. That is how Kaitlin and Jeff describe the impact that HIT has had on them both since being introduced to HIT. “I used to get really angry about things very easily and it affected my relationships with everybody, including my own family,” Jeff said, giving one example. “It’s because they didn’t understand what I went through and what I dealt with. A lot of times, my thought process was to just block people out.”
What changed? Meeting other veterans and realizing, “I wasn’t the only one going through certain situations,” Jeff said. “It has given me an avenue to talk to people who understand where I’ve been and what I’ve done.”
While Kaitlin admits that “Jeff is the person I always knew,” she noted that “he definitely seems more comfortable in his own skin.” She attributes that directly to the positive impact HIT has had on his life.
That impact has extended to Jeff’s willingness to ask for help. Because he never served in combat, he didn’t believe he should seek out VA services.
“He will sometimes talk about how he didn’t do anything because he wasn’t deployed,” Kaitlin said. “Other veterans he’s met through HIT don’t view him that way or don’t think anything less of him. They were able to tell him he was able to seek help and remind him that he did serve our country.”
Because of HIT, Jeff has sought out assistance through the VA which has helped him not only physically, but mentally.
Nearly two decades after the most important thing in his life was taken from him when he left the Army, Jeff has rediscovered what he once lost – a sense of belonging. It’s because of HIT.
“Heroes In Transition is a special organization that makes people feel like they always have a place and that they belong,” Jeff said. “Sometimes [veterans] need to know they are not alone, and they are not forgotten.”
If you’re a military couple interested in participating in our programs, email us at email@example.com.