Retired Soldier becomes licensed therapist

Retired Soldier becomes licensed therapist Courtesy Photo | SSG (ret) Chris Carver and his Company at the Iraqi border front, circa 2007. (Photo courtesy Chris Carver)

By MaryTherese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - “I really did not have life plans for after the Army. All I ever wanted to be my whole life was a Soldier. I was good at it and life was good. I really do not know which direction my life would have taken. I do believe that the person I am now is actually a better version of myself.”

When retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chris Carver joined the Army in 2002, he knew deployments would come, separation from family and friends would happen and yes that he would be in danger. He deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. His last deployment would change his life forever.

“On May 17, 2007, I had something I refer to as a ‘near-life experience’. What I mean is that because of that moment I was forced to re-evaluate myself and my purpose here on earth, said Carver.

Carver and his platoon were attacked by insurgents in Talafar, Iraq with an improvised explosive device while out on patrol. “I was severely injured with a severe axonal traumatic brain injury (the two sides of my brain were separated) followed by aspiration pneumonia from choking on my own blood,” Carver recalled as he talked about his injuries.

His wife Laura, who was five months pregnant with their daughter at the time, received a call that her husband had been seriously wounded and she needed to fly to Germany to say goodbye according to Carver. “While in Germany, once everything else had failed, my father convinced the doctors to try an experimental treatment process on me. So I received a Non-Federal Drug Administration approved treatment, the “Nova Lung”, which only three other U.S. Soldiers had received. The doctors proceeded to cut open both of my femoral arteries and use a little box to oxygenate my blood to allow my lungs to completely shut down and recover. I was in a coma for two months before waking up for a long recovery,” Carver said.

He was forced to re-learn how to do everything from breathing to learning how to eat, sitting up in bed and eventually walking with assistance. With the aid of a walker, he was able to be in the delivery room to witness the birth of his daughter Elizabeth.

“This was a time of revelations for me; of personal and involving the character of others. I had always believed that if you wanted something all you had to do was work for it,” he added.

He did work for it and it was hard in 2007. He now knows today it is better for Soldiers because of Warrior Care and Transition. “The Warrior Transition Units were still a new thing when I was going through the Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Boards process or at least I was not familiar with them. After spending time with the Veteran Administration hospital in Palo Alto, California, I requested to be sent home and the Army granted that request.”

The nearest Army installation was Joint Base Lewis McChord some five hours away. “I was put in touch with a “Squad Leader” who I had to call at the beginning of every week to check in as I was still on active duty,” said Carver. “I was able to out-process from my hometown of Spokane and never actually visited JBLM until my Temporary Disability Retirement List examination some four years later,” he added.

I quickly made contact with my local advocate who guided me through the local veteran resources and programs”, said Carver. Carver quickly learned the importance of advocates. He became one a few years later in his post-army career to help Soldiers just as he was helped. He says he knew how hard it was back then to navigate through the world of recovery from injuries.

Carver wanted to do even more for Soldiers and went back to school to earn a degree and is now a licensed therapist in Spokane, Washington.

“I succeeded in school and made it through my entire undergraduate program remaining on the Dean’s list. I subsequently was able to apply to and be accepted into an advanced standing graduate school for a Masters in Social Work. During my MSW studies, I focused on clinical work and took an internship at the local Veterans Outreach Center doing individual, couples and group therapies. This was a strange experience at first because these were people whom I had worked with upon first returning home and now they were my colleagues. The people I worked with had to undergo as much of a change as I as they had to stop thinking of me as an injured veteran and start thinking of me as a therapist,” Carver added.

The sound words this therapist shares with Soldiers today is from a journey of challenge and resiliency.

“In the Army I was taught to always continue to improve my fighting position and I carry that ideal into all aspects of my life. I have always been a goal driven person and my time in the Army helped me focus my energy in a positive direction. The best advice I can offer a new or retiring Soldier is to always be your own advocate for change and never settle. Always move towards that next objective.”