(WYTV) – For a lot of veterans, coming home after war is an overwhelming challenge.
One man is now taking his personal challenges and using them to help others.
Alex Amstutz enlisted in the Air National Guard after high school. After boot camp, he enrolled in college at OSU Mansfield and worked a couple jobs.
Things were good.
“Leading up to that point, that was the most proud I ever felt, aside from standing on those wrestling podiums in high school,” Amstutz said.
Amstutz was called upon to serve in Afghanistan in 2009, but there were some things he wasn’t quite prepared for.
“There was a purpose there. I’m fighting for my country. I’m serving the people. I believe in this mission, and then mortar attacks happen, and RPGs get shot, and people are poisoning water on base, and every day, it’s something new, so we start living that lifestyle,” he said.
His tour came to a close, but readjusting wasn’t easy.
“When I come back home and I’m still living that way, I’m still hypervigilant. I’m still suspicious of people,” he said.
Adding to the struggle, the life he had before deployment left was changing. The brother he lived with and also his mother and stepfather moved several states away.
He moved in with his father.
“My dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so he was gone five to six days a week, and it’s like, that’s all there was, and my family, my support system that I knew was just like, I was like, I’m all alone,” he said.
A lot on his mind, Amstutz was having trouble sleeping after returning.
He didn’t seek help. Instead, he began taking pills.
He said, eventually, regulations on opiates made them harder to obtain.
“So people that I would go to for pills, they don’t have pills anymore because they can’t get them, but they have heroin, and it’s cheaper, and it’s more effective, so I start using that,” he said.
Amstutz found himself in a dark place.
“As things progressed, I ended up getting in legal trouble. I was arrested with heroin, Percocet and a needle,” he said.
With his name in the news, in his hometown, it was his lowest point.
Amstutz tried to take his own life.
“I called my family, and I told them I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not going to bring you down. I’m sorry, but I can’t keep doing this,” he said.
Amstutz survived, entering treatment that not only saved his life but made it better. He became passionate about the help he received.
“I continued to think that if I’m getting this assistance through the VA, I want to help somehow. I want to help the VA. I want to help other veterans. I want to be there for people,” he said.
Today, Amstutz is a peer support specialist at the Youngstown VA. His work is a source of pride, purpose and passion.
That hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last month, out of roughly 1,200 peers, Amstutz was named national peer specialist of the year through the VA.
“A lot of people feel comfortable with somebody that has kind of been through that themselves, and that is kind of the whole jist of what peer support is about — kind of being there for one another,” he said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please look for help. You can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
To read more stories about local and national veterans, visit our Veterans Voices section on WYTV.com. Also, be sure to tune in for a special Veterans Voices segment this Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m. on 33 WYTV.