…And Then There Were Seven

Forward by Eric Beasley

Years ago I wrote this same article, with a different subject. Back then, there were four; four veterans that I knew had lost their lives by their own hands. Now there are seven. That number will rise in perpetuity.

The same people we elected to start the war, will pay lip service to the battle at home. A meaningless bill passes. A department position created. A room within our brick Monument to Slavery created to focus on rehabilitation and not prison time. But nothing changes.

The same people who slapped a yellow ribbon magnet on their car 15 years ago, will offer empty platitudes and catch phrases. They will abandon those in need and cast them into the streets. The Cruelest of these vile creatures actively sabotage these veterans. You know who you are. I pray that Karma strikes hard, strikes fast, and shows no mercy.

The honest people who care will tell the stories of those who have passed. They will actively seek ways to prevent it. So the story shall be told.

No edits, except for formatting and spelling, have been made. The following piece is opinion and commentary.

Written and Reprinted with Permission by Gretchen Eisenberg

While so many troll others due to political bias, while way too many attack others because they don’t understand why they vote the way they do, I hope you’ll stop and consider the rising number of lives being lost every day to suicide, domestic violence, and overdose.

My heart aches for the friend who just two years ago asked for a ride to the VA. Running a fever of nearly 105, feeling worthless because of his heroin addiction, David Perez called me. He told me he’d made too many choices that burned almost every bridge in his life. He told me that he called me because he knew that I wouldn’t give him money and that I would not enable him. He told me that the temptation was always right under the surface. During the hours in the ER, a very patient and compassionate male nurse did not give up on finding a vein. He’d asked David if he wanted me to leave the room for privacy, but David said that if I could stay he did not want to be alone. He did not care that he looked a mess from living on the streets for a bit, that I finally saw the ugliness that addiction was in his life.

For nine months, this friend who became a brother to me and was so loved by my children and my husband as well spent time at the VA in Martinsburg West Virginia most of the time, had been transferred to Washington DC for a medical procedure that no one could agree whether he needed or didn’t need between the two VA’s and spent most of his Christmas that year being jerked around from one place to the other before finally going back to Martinsburg again.

I was so angry FOR him when he was at the VA in our nation’s capital. This is absolutely NOT an exaggeration–that was the most messed up VA hospital I’d ever seen. The lobby PACKED with homeless, the stench of urine and sweat attacked me, making me feel even more sad for the homeless veterans who feel nothing but hopeless!

During his time in Martinsburg, I personally witnessed the horror of drug dealers bombarding him with text messages, “Hey dude, if you need anything, let me know.” He’d respond with, “Do not contact me again; I’m trying to save my life.” They’d reach out again on a number he’d not blocked—and he’d keep blocking numbers. Some even brought the poison TO the hospital–not giving an iota of care that they were actively KILLING this man!

One such men that attempted to get this demon poison to this brother I cherished actually lived in the “domicile” living quarters AT the VA in Martinsburg!!! How do they get away with this? How to these criminal murderers get to abuse the VA care, taking up a bed that someone wanting help so desperately needs???

And then finally a bed opened in Coatesville Pennsylvania. I sat there with David on their family day very well aware that he was the only person who did not have a single family member with him. Believe it or not, David did not express an ounce of frustration that day about his family not being there because he was well aware that the demon of addiction caused them intense, unimaginable pain. There were times that he expressed some frustration about that, but it was typically with a strong sense of understanding as to what they’d gone through. One of the psychiatrists treating patients there spoke with both the patients and their family members about the care they needed there and the road they would travel when they returned. She told me that over 80% of the PTSD patients in the program David was in also had dual substance abuse disorders and that at least 50% of those were also suffering from opoid addiction.

Thanks to Vivitrol, he was able to focus on the treatment, the therapy, the exercises in building relationships, etc. I was honored that he wanted me there as his family member while feeling awfully sad as I looked around at the mothers, daughters, brothers, husbands, and wives sitting with these precious VA patients. During the 9 months that David was in treatment, I became keenly aware of the evil lurking on the other side of the walls he was living in. He started to get tired of the institutionalized life he was living and other times when he was petrified to leave. There were times that he was excited about living a life where using was his past and were other times when that demon of addiction would have him wanting nothing more than “one more time, “getting that garbage into his body again.

I would completely be lying to say that I had not pulled back a little from this little brother that was placed in my life as a friend; I’ve had a strong feeling that he was using again for a while, and I couldn’t make him want to get clean again. But I know David! I know the thoughts that went through his head, thinking that people would feel let down and that he feared the humiliation of telling others that he hadn’t really beat this thing. I couldn’t tell you how many times I would talk with my husband in exasperation or even with David about this.

The last time that we talked on the phone, I asked him if he was really OK, I let him know that he would never use one too many times to keep me from getting right back to him and taking him right back to a place where he can get treatment. He told me that he was thankful for my friendship but that he was totally OK. The plaguing, intuitive thoughts that something was off with my sweet friend just couldn’t leave me over the past few weeks and I feel awful for not just calling him directly, knowing he would’ve answered the phone even if he was angry with me. I’d have said, “David, I could be completely wrong but something seems off. I see that you had an accident recently and are looking for funds to get back on your feet. Although I won’t donate money, is there some other way that I could help you? Is there a meeting that we could try to find for you?“

I didn’t call.

Imagining once again that he would give his best attempt at telling me that all is good, he’s just doing what he can to serve other veterans, that he was working on some other thing…I’ll be honest here in saying that I didn’t make that call because I was upset with him and I was sure that he had not been being honest with me about whether or not he was using.

I spent a good while last night immediately after the shock wore off that he died, that this disgusting demon finally took his life feeling guilty for not making that call. The truth is, I can accept that it’s not my fault nor is it anyone else’s that he couldn’t “beat” this addiction. But I can tell you this, individuals who sell heroin knowing that it is laced with fentanyl—individuals who are putting desperate addicts out there to sell this poison knowing full well they’re on the verge of death—it’s time to address this harshly.

Opioids are killing too many Davids, over and over. Some of you knew David, most had very little knowledge about what he was in my life. But some of you have your own loved one who is a David in your life. Maybe like me, you quietly took him/her to a hospital, did your best to demand they treat him/her, visited him/her daily so that they’d know they were worthy of love, that they mattered to you, that you weren’t giving up on them, that you’d give them anything they needed (except maybe money), you prayed for them relentlessly, you believed in them… And then this opioid demon stole their lives away anyway. You were right in letting them know they had value, that they’re precious, that they could lean into you for support. At this point, I’m just so sad that addiction took him.

I do pray that if you are quietly, secretly suffering an addiction that you know that there is help. That can sound so cliche, but it’s true! There are people who believe in you, who will fight and journey with you. You don’t have to be alone; you just have to be honest with us. You don’t have to worry about us judging you, about us saying, “Not again!” We will get up in the middle of the night, in the heat or snow, in the wee hours of the morning…We will take you to a safe place. We will be your emotional safe place if that’s what you need.

I haven’t talked about this for two years because it was David’s story to tell. I didn’t post pictures of us visiting him or of the gifts I brought to him, or try to take selfies of him in the hospital. It wasn’t about that. I’m sharing it now because David cannot tell you how miserable he was, how hard that struggle is, how evil the addiction is, how painful the time between fixes is once you start using again, how it gets worse every time. David wanted so much to be a relevant helper, to have his own way of making a mark on this world and someone who loves him wants to find a way to let him do it right now, even though he has just passed away.

About the Author

Eric Beasley
After a year fighting bears and chopping wood in the forest, a Cancer has emerged in Frederick County. The only way to kill Cancer is with fire, and casting a ballot.