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Who is Arn and what's his message?

The Veterans Benefits Administration currently determines me to be 90% disabled for combat-related PTSD and 100% Totally Disabled and Individually Unemployable (TDIU). I consider that a mental health challenge, NOT a life sentence.

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 Arn was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1945 to Scot/Welsh and Belgian parents. His birth father, who recently returned from service with the US Navy in the Pacific, often beat his mother. The beatings were likely due to two key factors: 1. His aircraft carrier survived many Japanese attacks, and he lost many good friends consequently, he may have suffered from PTSD, and 2. Upon receiving word that her "true love," thought to have been killed in Germany, was repatriated from a POW camp, his mother asked for a divorce.  Once the divorce is final, she remarries for love. Moving to Chicago, Arn’s family is increased by a brother.


Arn initially did well in school until sixth grade, when he suffered a TBI falling from a moving car. As a result, his ability to focus suffers. Still, he does well enough to the letter in high school and college sports, receiving numerous awards for leadership.


The advent of the Vietnam War finds Arn in the US Marines, where he and his new best Marine buddy Eddie become fast friends. Unfortunately, just ten days before his return from Vietnam, Eddie is KIA. That singular event begins Arn's free-fall toward combat-related PTSD, exacerbated by his assignments over the next twenty-plus years on active duty. Additionally, betrayal by a close friend results in Arn's divorce from his fabulous wife—the mother of their two fantastic children. She dies of ovarian cancer at the young age of fifty-two.


For the next three decades, Arn's attempt to adjust to a civilian career is hampered by his inability to bend when faced with superiors motivated by profit and advancement over moral leadership. 


Finally accepting that the problem is likely more profound, Arn turns to the Veterans Administration. Initially, the diagnosis is mild PTSD, with treatment running the gambit from Tai Chi to drugs—his reliance on medication results in a loss of motivation and an inability to focus critically or continue professional writing. 


In February 2020,  Arn stood before Eddie's name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, better known as 'the Wall." Haunted by Eddie's mom asking at the funeral, "Why not you?" Arn drives back to his Virginia farm and plans how he’ll  commit suicide, yet leave the impression it’s but a terrible accident. 


Recognizing that suicide is not the answer, Arn begins a rigorous remaking of his life. He returns to the VA medical center for clinical treatment. He successfully negotiates the minefield of the Veterans Benefits Administration for the benefits he's earned and to God to see him through it all. 

Today, Arn has decided to live a long time, and he wants to share his journey revealing "how he" is negotiating the many speed bumps and potholes that continue to hamper a safe exit from the active suicidal ideation highway toward his ultimate destination of living a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life.


I served twenty-three years in the Marine Corps. Although most of that time is chock full of cherished memories of past successes and accomplishments, there are private moments when I need to find a dark room, sit alone, and cry.


Many say combat is "months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror." 


For veterans with combat-related PTSD, I would rephrase that quote. "PTSD is months of passive suicidal ideation punctuated by moments of active suicidal ideation."

Following my retirement from the Marines, I struggled to find employment. I couldn't hold a meaningful job providing for my family and self-interests.


I was a headhunter for a worldwide employment agency. Recruiter with one of the nation's top-tier insurance companies. Special Police Officer with a municipality where I worked in the environmental crimes arena. And following 9-11, returning to my DoD roots serving as Intelligence Analyst in Mid-Atlantic Maritime Infrastructure under US Joint Forces Command.


In every instance, although I received awards for performance, I found myself dissatisfied with a work environment where higher-ups encouraged profit or blind obedience while sacrificing respect for the employee. I lost the job for being: too dogmatic, expecting too much from co-workers, bristling when my integrity was questioned, being too honest, and being a workaholic.


I'm sure many of my fellow veterans can relate to this situation in the civilian world, and you can appreciate I was out of work a lot. Unfortunately, this instability is one of many shortfalls resulting in my divorce from a fantastic lady. 


To put food on the table and rescue my self-esteem, I turned to various part-time employment where my physical conditioning, focus on attention to detail, and instructor skills are showcased. Among these are a Professional Soccer Official and Assessor and, again, returning to my military roots, Director of Intelligence and Scenario Development for a Law Enforcement Training company.

   One Deadend After Another

    Poetry Corner

As often happens, I am most creative in the early fog of waking up. And I was struck by a desire to write a poem to showcase on A poem surfacing daily struggles, dashing some plans, yet offering hope for a loving future.

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Move to the Light

Have you ever felt abandoned

Do the walls keep closing in

Are your days a mighty struggle

And your nights where demons win


Was it war and all its tragedies

Did a friend fall into the dust

Or your leaders give you orders

Causing moral confusion and mistrust


Did you say that when you grow up

There's a job you've got to have

Answering fire alarms like Uncle Jimmy

Or protecting life the same as dad


I've been told that docs and dentists

Have bad days like you and me

Where the hope they tried to offer

Produced further death and misery


Is there any job worth having

Any friend who’s always there

Is the darkness so pervasive

You give in to your despair


Do you hide your pain and anguish

Lashing out, is it pills, or maybe booze

Every turn you take leads in a circle

No good answers left to choose


I'm living proof a plan awaits you

No quick fix; the road is long

All it takes is your commitment

And accepting something's wrong


Just as combat boots come in sizes

And hard hats protect your brain

There are therapies and counseling

To set you back on track again


HE’s reaching out to those that suffer

Take HIS hand and hold on tight

Life’s worth living in all its richness

Together, let us Move to the Light!


By Arn Manella 

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