To whom it may concern,
Today marks the one-year anniversary of my departure from the Navy. I have noticed a strong desire from the VA for transitional feedback. I feel that if you want to know what it is truly like to transition in the worst possible way I will share my story. Thanks for your time.
I would like to begin by telling you about my experience during service.
I joined the Navy in 2010 at age 27 to better support my growing family and wife of 5 years. To make this happen we had to put all our things in storage and rent out our house in Denver to convince the recruiters that we could financially support the shift into military life. Doing this was extremely difficult. The recruiters at the Aurora, Colorado office did very little to prepare me for joining. I lost my job shortly before gaining a contract at MEPS. Word had gotten around at work after months of me trying to join the Navy and my employer replaced me.
While taking care of a newborn and two year old son I broke my index toe and was delayed another 3 months before going to boot camp in August, even though it healed before I was originally supposed to leave in May. This forced us to move to Florida to stay with family until I could leave. This also was a huge stressor given that I was unemployed for almost 6 months. We sold our cars and cashed out our retirement funds to live with my in-laws. The recruiters at the Hollywood, Florida office were very helpful and made me feel much more ready. They took me to medical to ensure my toe was healed and trained me both physically and on the basics of military knowledge, which helped me, gain the rank of E-2 after boot camp. Boot camp was possibly the best part of my entire time in the Navy.
I attended sub training and eventually landed orders for Bremerton, Washington in March of 2011. This was great because most of our family was in NW Oregon. Adjusting to the crew of the USS Connecticut was very hard. I felt at age 28 that I was dealing with a bunch of boyish men who never learned how to be professional or kind. There were some exceptions but the culture was not healthy. I was assaulted and exposed to people’s violence and ****** aggression. I felt I had no voice and it was much like becoming a prisoner. As we settled into dry dock for the last 3 years of my first tour, I was glad to be home more.
I made efforts to be useful during this time; I did volunteer work, and aided the process of the ship’s overhaul. I was promoted to the rank of E-5 by three years in service. My career was going well but unfortunately going to dry dock is a career killer. I lacked many opportunities for training and felt fairly incapable of doing my job. This seemed to be the culture of most of the crew as well. My first E-7 was much different in the way he handled things than his replacement. The methods I used to complete tasks fell under scrutiny and my new E-7 took me to two NJP’s in 2014 and 2015, the last year I was on board. I felt singled out as many others had been doing things in the same ways. This was hard enough as I lost rank and had to go to shore duty with much less pay than expected. My wife had also had our third son by this time.
Each of our children were given a blanket diagnosis of autism by the child development specialist at Bremerton Naval Hospital, a TRICARE wonder. This sounded great to my wife who became more and more dependent on being a dependent, it opened the gates for a lot of free assistance. My wife did not have to work for ten years and this made her depressed and overweight, which trickled down to me and my morale at home or work.
Eventually my wife became more and more convinced of the need for the extra care of the ABA therapy and respite care provided by the Navy. She swore that she would leave me if I ever left the Navy. I figured she was just being dramatic. As she let herself go, we both fell into poor shape. I had a hard time with my weight and she became more mentally unstable. This home life greatly affected me in all aspects and did not help my work situation. The more appointments that my wife or boys had that I needed to help with, the more grief I got from my superiors. I feel this contributed to the ‘lesson’ I was taught, getting two NJP’s.
The doctors at the Naval Hospital also tried to treat my wife’s periodic depression with Prozac and other anti-anxiety medicine with little investigation. This only seemed to worsen her behavior in years to come. By 2018, we finally got a second opinion and found out that she has been Bipolar for years. The Prozac only made her even more manic and did little to help. She even left our Christian church and became Jewish, dragging our boys along into it. This unstable home situation greatly affected my work life in a negative way.
Shore duty in Bremerton was not much different as I was working on subs. The main difference was working with older retired Navy folks who were even more crass and horrible than the current enlisted co-workers I had worked with previously. I had a difficult time balancing the civilian work environment with the military pomp and circumstance that floated in the foreground. I gained the rank of E-5 back and left shore duty on great terms.
I was dreading going back to a sub as a Machinist Mate so I put in the work during shore duty to change jobs. I gained orders as a Logistics Specialist on subs, once again in Bremerton. I was to attend school in Mississippi for 6 weeks in 2018. At 35, I had just purchased a second home as we had lost our first home in Denver to a short sale because we could not afford to cover the rent and mortgage on military pay. My wife was also spending more than we could afford.
While in Mississippi, I gave a ride to my fellow/junior students and some of them later were caught with alcohol in the barracks. Because I had given them a ride earlier in the day, my name was brought into the story. Instead of taking my gesture of giving them a ride as a good deed, I was blamed for their choices that were made independently of me. I did not purchase alcohol or consume it. The NTTC command seemed to want a scandal and I went to a third NJP. This time I was not worried because I felt I had done nothing wrong. Things for me changed forever by the weeks and months I spent at NTTC in Meridian, Mississippi. I was treated like a monster and second class citizen and held captive from my family in Washington for 6 months.
I kept trying to fight the NJP but to no avail. Eventually I was recommended for a separation from service, as my appeals were denied. Looking back, I should have asked for a court martial because no proof is needed to punish someone during an NJP at the command level. This was even stated to me by one of the officers who sat at my separation board. It is all about what the O-6 feels like doing. Because I now had three NJP’s they could easily send me home but I opted to challenge this, but it only kept me there longer.
Gaining a JAG lawyer, I presented my case and was exonerated of the charges against me at NTTC. This unfortunately did not eliminate the third NJP from my record; it was just to make me feel better apparently because in the end they decided to separate me from service.
By this time, my family was in shambles. My wife who had just been diagnosed as Bipolar was not doing well and there was nothing I could do from so far away. I had no answer as to when I would even come home. Six months is a long time to be away for little or no reason. She could not understand the situation and felt I must have done something worse. It is as if she forgot who I was all of a sudden after 13 years of marriage. I could not wait to get home to start putting my life back together but I could not leave.
I was told I could not do TAPS or GPS in my home state of Washington. I had to take it all online with JKO as NTTC is limited on most things including GPS classes. JKO training for TAPS and GPS was a joke and it did not even work properly some of the time. I just wanted to get home.
I would have much rather transitioned in the place I would eventually be living and working. I was fine with getting out of the Navy by this time but my wife was not. Before I left Mississippi, I was struggling with money so bad that I had to borrow money from my father and take out a loan from Navy Federal just to stay afloat.
Unexpectedly, USAA insurance called me to ask about transitions and to my surprise, they were talking about divorce. My wife had called them and said we were separated. As I looked into her activities, I discovered she had been sleeping with some other sailor, ITS1 Jason Colbert at NCTAMS, Bangor Washington. I confronted him and his command but nothing was done about it. She now is still with him a year later and ITSCS Shinn apparently did not feel he should be given an NJP but that is not my problem anymore. I assumed my wife cheated and blew our money because of all the stress and that it was her condition that made her act out but even giving her the benefit of the doubt, she continued to stab me in the back by ignoring me and refusing to talk about things.
To make matters worse she filed for divorce and a restraining order on July 11th, so I had no place to return to once I left. I had to start gearing up for another legal battle right after another. The stress of this time caused me to lose 50lbs in only a couple months. I took up smoking as I was not allowed to leave base and fantasized about storming the gate to achieve suicide by police. Amazingly, I survived this difficult time away. I left NTTC on 27 July 2018 and had nothing to show for my eight years in service but regret.
I returned to a flurry of legal matters and had to sell my home and my ex-wife was able to gain primary custody of our boys as the court system is very biased towards women. I never once hit her or tried to hurt her but was treated like ****. I never wanted any of this and it makes me sick. Thankfully, friends from my old church took me in and let me stay for 6 months, close to rent free. Another church friend got me a job with a DOD contractor by September 1st. Even though I was taken care of, I felt the military did not one thing to aid in the process. In fact, they hindered my success. I did it all myself or with the help of my friends.
I now am happy to say that I met a neighbor of my church friends and we are now living together. She has taken care of me since most of my income now goes towards spousal support and child support. There is no way another person could have gone through this type of situation and come out of it as well as I did. This speaks to my character and probably all of the horrible situations I had to deal with in the military. I completely understand why vets become homeless and despondent. There has to be better ways to help vets. Family legal services would be a huge help to name one.
I would love to speak in more detail to another human being about what I can do to improve this from happening to someone else. I do not want to see more vague surveys and emails from the VA.
This felt like poetry when I read it to myself. Life can be so ugly but I am here to tell you that it will get better.