“If you look at me, you would see just a normal young guy who is pretty big, but I am pretty limited in what I can do, and the pain that keeps me from enjoying life is pretty frustrating,” explains retired Army Sgt. Josh Renschler, who suffered a severe back and brain injury in Iraq during his first tour. It happened on Valentines Day in 2004, catapulting Renschler away from the frontlines and onto a new battlefield: advocating for veterans’ care.
On Thursday, Renschler went to Capitol Hill to testify at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing alongside the parents of three veterans who committed suicide. When his testimony began, tears and emotions blistered Renschler’s calm voice, but he was able to move on and express a clear message.
“We need a system that serves the veteran, not one that requires the veteran to accommodate to the system,” Renschler said.
Innately stubborn, Renschler spent the first few years after his injury rejecting the idea that he would never go back to Iraq. “My goal for treatment was patch me up and send me back,” he told CBS News. As Renschler waited for appointments at the VA, he and his wife Nikki paid out of their own pocket for Renschler to get the medical help he needed. They eventually lost their home and relied on family to help them care for their children.
There are no “silver bullets,” Renschler said, but from 2008 to 2009, he experienced a model that worked. It was a trial VA program placing all of Renschler’s doctors — including his primary care physician, psychologist, psychiatrist and social worker — into one wing of the VA hospital. The medical professionals met together to talk about their patients, providing an interdisciplinary understanding of the mental and physical challenges facing Renschler and the other veterans in the program. The doctors agreed on the best solutions together.
Would this model drive down the suicide rate among veterans? Renschler believes it would.
“A team-based model would definitely prevent many more suicides than any other programs we have seen,” he said.