“For a long time my wife would wake up in the middle of the night to find me under the bed looking for my rifle, speaking Arabic in my sleep,” recalled Sgt. Michael Van Deren. “I was constantly staying busy because anytime I had down time my head would start wandering. I never left the house. I would get groceries at 3am because I couldn’t deal with people. I had to be armed to leave the house, even to take the dog out.”
Van Deren has come a long way from those days, after he had received an honorable discharge from the Marines, of struggling to adjust to civilian life and deal with the post-traumatic stress syndrome he couldn’t even admit he had. Now divorced, Van Deren recently earned an associate’s degree in drafting and design. He plans to return part-time in the steel fabrication plant where he worked before going back to school.
“I would not be here today if it weren’t for Kim Bradley,” Van Deren said, crediting his former NMCRS combat casualty assistance visiting nurse for helping him through the tough times.
Van Deren was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. After his first deployment, he knew he was suffering from PTSD symptoms, but felt compelled to ignore them. “I came home and got meritoriously promoted,” he explained. “I was leading Marines. I had a bunch of guys under my wing. That was my priority. I knew something was going on but didn’t have time to deal with it.”
It wasn’t until 2011 when Van Deren met Kim Bradley that he began to truly address his mental health issues. “I dealt with all the physical injuries when getting out of Marine Corps in 2010,” he said. “But it wasn’t long after getting out when everything just came out of the woodwork all at once. Everything was a mess.”
Every time he had a flashback, Van Deren would call Bradley to help talk him through it. “When she picks up the phone, she is 100% yours,” he explained. “You’re her world. She talked me down from a lot of stuff.”
Bradley worked with Van Deren by phone and in person as he moved from Colorado to North Carolina and back. Van Deren looked to Bradley for advice and stuck by whatever she said. “She’s 100% genuine. Once we started working together, I followed through. I take her word as gospel. If Kim says I need to do this, I do it. I trust her completely.”
Because he’s back in Colorado, Van Deren is now assigned to NMCRS CCA visiting nurse Tammi Ackiss, but he is still in touch with Kim. He’ll soon be a mentor at the Focus Marine Foundation where he was once a participant. Van Deren now feels comfortable going shopping during the day, handling crowds, and dealing with people. He feels like he’s more himself, and has reduced the number of medications he takes from seven to three.
While Van Deren wants to take his re-entry to employment slowly, he already has dreams for the future. “Ideally I’ll be doing structural steel or drawings initially to get my feet wet, but my long-term goal is designing equipment for doing sports with prosthetics. I want to work with guys who have physical disabilities to do some design to make adaptive sports possible.”