Nicole Isaac represents the changing face of Veterans in the United States. An Iraq War Veteran, the 28 year old, formerly homeless Army Specialist took some time to share her story with us.
VOAC: Tells us a little bit about your military career.
Nicole: I was studying Business Management at Alabama and I joined the Army Reserves because they said they’d help pay for college. The next thing I knew I was being deployed to Iraq.
VOAC: How long were you deployed?
Nicole: 6 days shy of a full year. We went to Kuwait and that’s where I finished out my deployment.
VOAC: What happened when you came home?
Nicole: I partied! I was young. I felt this sense of freedom; I could walk down the street and not worry about being shot at. I was home, I could see my family.
VOAC: Was coming home hard for you?
Nicole: Coming home was the easiest part. Seeing my family was great. The Army sends you to all these meetings where people ask you how you’re doing. You try to get through that part really fast. Yes, I’m fine, check off all the boxes and let me go home!
VOAC: When did things start to change for you?
Nicole: It wasn’t immediate at all. It wasn’t until maybe 2 years after I got home that everyone started to tell me I’d changed. I didn’t see it, I lived through war and came home; nothing could touch me. That was my mentality. My husband and I separated and my family started to put up this wall. I noticed I was less attentive to things and I was angry all the time.
VOAC: When did you realize you needed help?
Nicole: The turning point for me was a fight I had with my sister. I was ready to fight her like she was a stranger. After that I was fired from my job because I was told I couldn’t take orders and my son and I became homeless. I had been spirialing downhill for a while before then, but that was my rock bottom.
Nicole made her way to the Veterans Administration for help; there she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Nicole: I didn’t know the symptoms of PTSD, neither did my family. Nobody knew what was wrong so nobody could help me. The VA put me in contact with the Volunteers of America Chesapeake program and I interviewed with Michele who is now my case manager.
VOAC: We’re so happy you were strong enough to seek help. How have things changed since entering this program?
Nicole: Everything is different. I go to therapy now, I have a home, I’m back in school. I feel so good. I’m becoming the person I used to be.
VOAC: What are some parts of the VOAC Veterans Program that have helped you the most?
Nicole: I’m in a better place financially, I can get my thoughts together, this program took a HUGE burden off of me. I feel like I can stack my cards back together now, they’re not just all scattered everywhere. Michele [my case manager] is so great at listening. Even when my thoughts are scattered she helps me to put things into perspective for me. I can call her anytime; she’s like a life coach for me. I’m on the right track now.
VOAC: What are your plans now?
Nicole: I am on track to graduate the program as well as obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management next year. Michele helped me find an entrepreneurship course as well and I created a business plan and applied for a grant to open my own salon. I can determine my future based on how hard I work, I don’t have to rely on anyone. I can do it.
VOAC: What advice would you give to other “Millenial Veterans” returning home?
Nicole: Pay attention to yourself. Pay attention if you find yourself getting angry at things you never used to. Go get help, it doesn’t mean you’re weak or something is wrong, sometimes you just need some help and there are people there to help you. And everything isn’t always sad and dreary if you’re going through a situation right now. There is always still hope.
If you are a Veteran in need of services or know someone who is please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Visit http://www.voachesapeake.org to find out more about our Veterans Services Programs.