Overcoming physical and invisible wounds: How one soldier went from contemplating suicide to advocating for the wellness of others
Then-Army Maj. Ed Pulido, stands with his wife, Karen, and daughters, Kaitlin and Kinsley in June 2010. Pulido retired from the Army and is 12 years into his recovery and credits his family for encouraging and supporting him during that time. (Photo courtesy of Ed Pulido)
ON Aug. 17, 2004, Army Maj. Ed Pulido’s life took a drastic turn when the vehicle he was driving hit an improvised explosive device in Iraq. In the months to follow, Pulido would experience one of his toughest fights yet. Despite his training as a suicide prevention officer, nothing could have prepared the positive-spirited soldier for the emotional struggles ahead.
The blast from the improvised explosive device threw Pulido out of the vehicle, badly injuring the left side of his body. By the time he arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, he was battling burns and multiple infections, including two staph infections in his leg. He underwent 17 surgeries during his first 40 days in the hospital. When his left leg was amputated shortly after, his world changed.
“I never dealt with the mental side [of my experience] until that left leg was taken and this grief and feeling of hopelessness of not having any power to do anything for yourself really took its toll,” said Pulido, who was on his third deployment during his 16 years in the Army Reserve when he was injured. He began to worry about his future, wondering if he would be a burden and how he could support his family. He felt broken. “It crippled my positive spirit.”
That was when thoughts of suicide started, said Pulido. Equipped with a counseling degree, he understood the symptoms of someone struggling with depression and contemplating suicide. Even then, he found the recognition difficult to accept. It wasn’t until he experienced the symptoms that he truly understood them, he said.
Pulido started to look for support. Knowing his family was dealing with their own set of worries and emotions, the decision to reach out to his family weighed heavily on his mind – something many service members worry about, he said. Despite his concerns, they rallied behind him and became his cheerleaders.
“At the beginning it was the fear of the unknown,” said Pulido. “You have to let the dust settle and what I found was that faith, my love for country and the uniform, and of course family and supporting my fellow warriors were very important to me.”
U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Christopher Hunter is the Department of Defense’s program manager for Behavioral Health in Primary Care and a clinical psychologist. He said the type of social support that Pulido experienced can be vital to recovery.
“The person who doesn’t have that social support, or doesn’t feel like they have that social support, might be at greater risk,” said Hunter, though he pointed out it’s not a pure litmus test as to who might try to commit suicide . “This is why the military services have taken suicide prevention seriously.”
Hunter said making sure people know there are a variety of avenues of support is very important.
“Different people will gravitate to different things,” said Hunter. “We need to make sure they know they are not alone.”
In addition to physical therapy, Pulido found outpatient therapy, through which he picked up journal writing, and peer-to-peer support especially helpful in recovery. He suffered from memory loss and cognitive issues, and writing daily helped him talk about what he was going through, he said. Pulido also reached out to the Real Warriors Campaign, through which he gained a peer-to-peer support system. The campaign, which was launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, is a public awareness campaign that encourages service members and their families to seek help. Real Warriors helped him understand he wasn’t the only person going through these experiences.
“I felt good when I referred a service member to something they could benefit from,” said Pulido. “That to me was very powerful and it was a way for me to serve outside of uniform.”
Pulido continued his recovery through his work, which he sees as an opportunity to pay it forward, he said. Now retired from the Army, Pulido has also dedicated his career to advocating for support for service members, veterans and their families through organizations that provide scholarships, and mental and physical wellness programs.
“Resiliency truly plays a huge role in the interaction and the wellness side of what we’re doing,” said Pulido. “It’s about not giving up. It’s about creating a system that makes you mentally and physically fit and that includes support systems, information and connections to other people.”
For more information on Real Warriors Campaign, please visit www.realwarriors.net.