The Day I Met Joey
I’ll never forget the day I met Joey. My husband and I were headed over to the pharmacy to pick up his prescription refills at WOMACK Hospital which is located in the Fort Bragg, NC Army base. We took the escalator downstairs, like we normally did when going to see my husbands neurologist. We walked past the little coffee stand as we approached the pharmacy. I noticed the long line of people waiting to have their prescriptions filled. It was busy at the pharmacy that day. Something not too unusual. I almost guarantee I could name most of the prescriptions being handed out that day. Zoloft or Prozac, Ambien, Klonopin, maybe some Vicodin or Percocet to wash it all down with… those were the top medications most soldiers who had come home from Iraq were on during that time.
I noticed something different that day. A young soldier, brown hair with a military cut holding his head down. He had his ACU uniform on, a broken foot all wrapped up with crutches laying next to him on the floor. As we approached closer, I noticed he was crying. He wasn’t sobbing, but it was apparent he had tears running down his face. I haven’t seen too many grown men cry. I knew something must be wrong. I looked around to see if anyone was with him. People seemed to walk around him and one soldier even stepped over his leg with the broken foot, the other leg was bent with his knee in the upward position. I glanced at my husband and told him I was going to see what was going on with the soldier. I kneeled down and asked him if he was okay. He said, “I’ve just been waiting here a long time and my foot really hurts.”
He looked up at me, as soon as he did I knew I couldn’t let him sit there any longer. If you met Joey, and if you’ve ever had him look at you – his eyes would have made you melt, he had the most amazing bright, blue eyes. His eyes were so calm and peaceful, but you could see the hurt in his eyes. The confusion. My husband nodded and extended his hand to Joey. I said, “come with us – I’ll help you.”
We helped the soldier off the floor and took him into a little private room next to the pharmacy where soldiers could go if they didn’t do well around crowds. I always took my husband in that little room to wait. The pharmacist would try to expedite the process so soldiers in that room wouldn’t have to wait so long. I explained to the lady in the back that Joey had been waiting a long time for his pain medication. She went in the back to look for it. My husband and I were alone with Joey in the room. He apologized for crying, I told him not to worry about it. ”I’m so confused, I don’t even know where I am right now. Some guy just told me to wait here. I don’t know where he went and I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.” Joey said as he stood there propped up against his crutches shaking.
Come to find out, Joey was staying at the nearby hotel on post called Moon Hall. Many of the rooms at that hotel were used for our returning combat veterans who were assigned to the WTB, Warrior Transition Battalion. My husband was attached to the WTB, however we owned a home off post so thankfully – he didn’t have to live there. I heard horror stories about that place. Several suicides happened at Moon Hall. I heard several soldiers say that their PTSD became worse living at Moon Hall and being in the WTB. My husband was one of the soldiers whose PTSD became much worse at the WTB. On the first floor of Moon Hall, they also had a little cafe, tv room and rooms for classes offered to those in the WTB.
We waited for the Pharmacist to find Joeys medication, and then we drove Joey over to Moon Hall. He was very appreciative for the ride. Before we dropped Joey off, I gave him my phone number. Joey hobbled out of the van and into Moon Hall. It was several days before we ran into Joey again.
We would run into Joey from time to time at the WTB. He was having a really rough time of adjusting back into civilian life. He was single, but talked about his ex-girlfriend and how much he missed her. He talked about his mom often, and the buddies he had in his unit prior to being assigned to the WTB. We also discussed his medications the doctor gave him. He was on The Candy Cocktail medications. Sleep medication, anxiety meds and antidepressants. Most of the time, my husband and I would have our kids with us. Joey really liked our kids and would light up every time he would see them. I started to make it a point to reach out to Joey a little bit more each time we ran into him. My husband did too. We did see that the Cadre tried to show Joey “tough love,” but what he needed at the time was a friend, time to heal and love.
I remember one afternoon, the Gold Star Moms hosted Superbowl at Moon Hall for those who were assigned to the WTB. Joey didn’t want to go, but we talked him into it. He had a friend with him who was also a soldier living in Moon Hall. Joey was apparently nervous. It was quite strange to see this good lookin’ kid who looked like he had everything going for him so nervous. By just looking at him, you would think he would have all of the self esteem in the world… but when you’d go to approach him he would start acting very nervous, looking over his shoulder and looking around the room instead of making eye contact.
Our First Outing
I made it my mission to befriend Joey and to try to talk to him to get him to open up. One day he said he had never been off post. At that point, he had been at Fort Bragg for several weeks. My husband, kids and I picked him up and took him to church with us on our first outing. He did really well. He wanted to sit near the back of the sanctuary which was fine with us. We went to a really big church with thousands of people. It was called Manna Church, we loved it! Everyone at the church was very welcoming to Joey. He started to open up a little bit, even smiled at people who shoot his hand. After church, we took him out to eat at a Chinese Buffet in town. Joey went to church with us on several occasions. He started opening up and even enjoying his time with us, we really enjoyed our time with Joey also. He loved to tell Yo’ Mama Jokes, Chuck Norris lines and Fort “Dragg” (his little nickname for Fort Bragg) jokes on the way to church.
Meet Georg-Andreas Pogany
My husband started participating in woodcarving classes that were offered at Moon Hall to soldiers in the WTB. One evening when my husband and I were headed to his classroom, Joey came darting down the hall looking for us. He was evidently happy he found us. He had a business card in his hand and started to tell us about a guy named Georg-Andreas Pogany who was in town to help soldiers at the WTB. You see, many soldiers in the WTB had problems with the Cadre. Cadre are those assigned to the WTB to assist the warriors in WTB… Sadly however, many of the Cadre members at the time didn’t care about the soldiers. They only cared about themselves. Joey had many problems with Cadre at WTB for various reasons. He was very excited that an advocate had come to town. He wanted my husband and I to meet with Pogany. We did, and he turned out to be a great guy who desperately wanted to help our veterans who had been in combat. Moon Hall was cursed with several suicides and Andrew was trying to find out why.
I can’t remember the exact number of suicides that had taken place at Fort Bragg while Joey was attached to the WTB, but the numbers were horrifying. One is awful. In 2007, ten soldiers killed themselves at Fort Bragg. In 2008-2009 there were at least 19 reported suicides at Fort Bragg alone.
Many soldiers were crying out for help, but were not getting the mental health care they needed. Still to this day, if someone were to ask me what I think was wrong at the WTB is was the fact that many of the Cadre members (who were never deployed themselves) were acting like the battalion was the same as any other battalion… in fact, it was not. The WTB had many soldiers who needed extensive mental health care along with physical injuries of war. They mixed the soldiers who were injured in training accidents who had never deployed in with soldiers who had seen combat. They expected the soldiers who were in combat to “get over” what they had seen. Cadre didn’t empathize with our combat wounded warriors. Cadre receive more pay than regular soldiers to be in the WTB. Many were there for the extra pay and benefits. You can’t pay someone to care… they either do, or they don’t.
Pogany helped Joey through some very difficult times at the Fort Bragg WTB. Eventually, Joey was given a medical retirement thanks to Andrew and he moved back home to New York.
Joey told me many times he felt lost and that no one could really understand how he was feeling. Much like most of our returning troops diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD, “he looked good on the outside but was falling apart on the inside.”
Joey didn’t connect with many people. He tried to make friends, but didn’t trust anyone. He didn’t want to burden anyone. I don’t know how many times Joey would apologize after telling me he was struggling. Every time he told me he was having a hard time, he would say he was sorry. I would always tell him he didn’t have to do that – I was his friend, I was there for him… but, he still didn’t want to bother me. I’m really glad he knew he could call me though – even if he had to say he was sorry for bothering me. I spoke to Joey several times after he went home to New York. He told he was having a difficult time he had with the reintegration process going from combat veteran to civilian.
One day, Joey called me to tell me his father died. He was having a really hard time with that on top of the problems he was having with the reintegration process. Around June or July, Joey called me. He asked me if it was possible to be addicted to main medications and that he did think he was addicted to prescription pain medications. I suggested he seek in patient detox/mental health care treatment, he was very open to that and began to look at different options and that he wasn’t alone in his addiction. Several veterans I heard of became addicted to prescription pain medications as they were trying to seek treatment for pain and mental anguish caused by war. Joey took it upon himself to check into a few programs and was admitted to in patient treatment centers several times over the past couple of years through the VA. Joey never gave up in his battle to overcome his PTSD, he continued to seek treatment.
In the summer of 2012 early in the morning, Joey called me. I think it was around 0730. I knew something wasn’t right and I answered right away. He never called me that early. The first thing he said is, “I’m sorry to bother you…” as his voice trembled.
I reminded him he wasn’t bothering me, but inside my stomach turned. I could tell in his voice he was really battling demons that morning. Still after all these years, he was still afraid to be a bother to anyone, he sounded so upset… afraid.
Joey told me again that he was having a really hard time navigating life. He knew without a doubt at this point that he was addicted to prescription medication. He was very ashamed of it, he apologized over and over to me saying he didn’t mean to become addicted, although I reminded him it wasn’t like he was trying to become addicted – things happen and I was glad he wanted help. The very medications the Army gave him back in the WTB days became his addiction. The Candy Cocktail. Instant relief from the worlds problems. I began to tell him of a good friend of our family who was addicted to the pain medications he was on on in the Army. I told him this soldier was a great soldier, he was also injured in war – and was shot several times. He took pain medications to escape some of the pain he was in after he was shot. Joey had to take pain medications just like this soldier was on, but for his foot (remember he broke his foot in Iraq). I told him that this soldier had great success in an in patient program and to this day he said it was one of the best things he ever did for himself. Joey sounded relieved. He started to calm down, he knew now – he wasn’t alone. I could literally hear a sigh of relief.
I continued to tell Joey I was really proud of him for going to get help. “I just want to get better. I really do.”
I think he may have been crying. His voice sounded shaky like the day I met him at Fort Bragg. Joey told me that the van from Montrose Veterans Affairs Hospital would be at his place to pick him up in a few minutes and he wanted me to stay on the phone with him until the van arrived. He was scared. He kept saying, “Are you sure this is going to help me?”
To this day, those words haunt me.
I told him if he would stay in and finish the program, and really tried the program would help him. He started to talk about the plans he had after he finished his treatment. He really wanted to help veterans like him who were having a hard time after combat. He said he wanted to share his story with Voice of Warriors, on our radio show and our website. He wanted to go places and talk with other vets to encourage them.
Joey also wanted to come to Michigan, where our family lives so he could see us. I started telling him how big our kids were getting and how Ken would be really excited to see him. Soon, the van arrived. Joey said he had to get going and he thanked me about ten times for staying on the phone with him until his van arrived. I encouraged him, telling him how great he was for seeking treatment and that I was really proud of him. I could hear him tell the van driver, “okay – I’m ready” as he shut the van door.
I have to get going, but I’ll call you with my information when I get there. It was good to talk to you. Tell Ken and the kids I said hi… – Joey
I will, I’ll talk to you soon… you can do it! -Me
Thank you, talk to you soon… bye! – Joey
That was the last time I spoke to Joey.
The Phone Call
Early on September 8, 2012 Joeys Mom, Linda called me. I didn’t answer the phone that morning because I was in the shower. I noticed Linda’s number on my cell phone and I had a message. I assumed she was going to give me an update on Joeys progress at Montrose. I called my voicemail to listen to her message. It is not at all what I was expecting.
“Patti, this is Linda… Joeys Mom. Joeys dead. He died Wednesday, I am sick to my stomach. His funeral is tomorrow, I am on my way there now.”
Wait a minute. What? This must be a mistake. Joey couldn’t be dead. He was in patient at the hospital, he was getting better. He had so many plans. This couldn’t be right. I called Joeys mom, who was obviously very upset. I remained calm on the phone, I didn’t want to upset her any more than she was. I had tears running down my face as she spoke. I still didn’t quite believe it.
I asked her what had happened, she wasn’t sure. Joeys friends found him dead in his apartment.
Joey checked himself out of in patient early. He didn’t finish the program. His death was ruled as an accidental overdose.
In Memory Of…
Joey made several friends during his in-patient stay at Montrose. Several patients wrote letters and drew pictures for Joeys mother after they found out he had passed away. Here’s some of the letters and a drawing. You can click the images to enlarge them.
Joeys Military History
Joey served in the US Navy and shortly after that he joined the US Army. Joey knew that the odds of going to war were high, yet he wanted to serve his country. Joey broke his foot while in Iraq, he received a Purple Heart after he was medically discharged from the Army. Joey was 100% disabled through the VA after his service in the Army.
Joeys Memory Goes On
I spoke with Joey the day that he left for his last in patient program. He wanted more than anything to have his voice make a difference in the lives of other veterans. Voice of Warriors will not let his request go unfulfilled. Joeys memory and voice will carry on. Please share Joeys story in hopes that his story will reach other veterans and families out there struggling with PTSD. If you are a family member who is concerned about your veteran and the medications he or she is taking, please reach out to Coaching Into Care or email us for resources which we will gladly share. firstname.lastname@example.org
I do what I do because of veterans like Joey. I am not paid, and I continue on. Please join me in helping our veterans who have been to combat. Lend a listening ear. Learn about the challenges and love our veterans.
Wife of WIA Veteran Ken Katter and Forever Friend of Joey Hart