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Butler VA Health Care System
A Veterans Story: Charles “Chuck” Felts
Tuesday, November 10, 2020“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you,” as quoted by John C. Maxwell, American author and pastor.
My name is Charles Felts. But I prefer Chuck. I am a 22-year Veteran having served 13 years in the Marine Corps and 9 years in the Army National Guard. And this is my story.
I was born and raised in New Mexico. My parents grew up during WWII and were much older when they decided to have children. I think that is where their patriotism started. Patriotism was at the heart of our home and family. We lived red, white and blue. I was 8 years old when I decided I wanted to be a soldier and I remember clearly when it happened: My dad and I were watching the Sands of Iwo Jima, a John Wayne movie, and at the end there were these soldiers raising the American flag and I said to my dad that I wanted to be a soldier like them. He said those are Marines. Then, I’m going to be a Marine. After I graduated high school in 1988, I fulfilled my dream and joined the Marine Corps.
In 1994, I decided to leave the military and give civilian life a try. I soon regretted it and tried to re-enlist. Restrictions on enlistment at that time prevented me from rejoining. I had to wait until 2000 to re-enlist. Several years later, my wife suffered and, thankfully survived, a brain aneurysm. We had no family in the area to help out and decided to leave the military again so that I could be home more and help my wife. I still craved the military life, so I decided to join the Army National Guard to fill that need of service to my country. It was a weekend each month and perhaps a week or two service throughout the year. That I can do. I had only been in the guard for 7 months before being called up for active duty that lasted 9 years.
I finally retired in 2015. During my military tenure, I served in 4 combat tours during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. I served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. I completed non-combat deployments and was an Infantry and Tactics Instructor. My entire military career was in the infantry. At the age of 50, I realized that I had spent half of my life in service to my country. Over the years, there were many things that stood out, but it was the people that I met that had the most impact.
“There are many things I remember about my military service, but it is the people I met along the way that I remember the most. I met some fantastic people.”
Leaving the service didn’t heal the wounds I suffered. I was struggling with PTSD, insomnia and alcohol addiction. Others, Veterans who had missing extremities, needed the care the VA offered. I didn’t want to take care away from those who needed it. It wasn’t until an accident, that could have been much worse, when I began to reconsider these misconceptions and finally sought the help I needed. As a soldier, you are trained to work through the pain. And that was what I was doing, working through the pain.
“It was my pride that was keeping me from asking for help. I didn’t want to admit it until the accident. That was when the light bulb came on. And thank God it did.”
I had not heard of the Butler VA until I was admitted to their Domiciliary program on December 6, 2018, coincidently, that is also the date I enlisted in the Marine Corps. And I am glad I came here. All I can say is the Butler VA saved my life. I chose to stay in Butler because of the excellent care I have received. As soon as you walk through the door, you can feel they care about you. And because of the VA and the great support I have received, I am also 2 years sober.
I continue to get my care at the VA and attend group meetings weekly. But, the best therapy I have is maintaining contact with my squad from Iraq. We were a tight group and shared many experiences together. We deployed together and came home together. That is not always the case. Of the 11 squad members, I have regular contact with six and we connect weekly via zoom meetings. In September 2020, one of my squad members committed suicide. It has been very difficult for myself and the others in the wake of this tragedy. We have increased our zoom meetings to 3 times a week in the hopes of keeping regular personal connections going and to encourage each other to get help when things get to be too much.
Throughout the years, I have made many decisions, good and bad, but the best decision I made was coming to the VA. The VA is here for you, so use it. Don’t let your pride get in the way of getting the care and help you need, that you deserve.
“Don’t let a tragedy be your light bulb.”
During the COVID pandemic, I know many people were having a difficult time with the restrictions. I welcomed the reprieve to just focus on me. I was getting burned out with people, so having to social distance and quarantine has been great. Right now, I am choosing to do me and do what I want for a change. I have been working out a couple times a day, mountain biking and playing music. I have not been home for some time, so I am planning a trip home in the coming months. I have my issues, but I am in a much better place today thanks to the Butler VA Health Care System.
The staff and management of the Butler VA would like to thank Mr. Felts and all service men and women (past and present) for their service. Every day we work to afford our Veterans the highest merit they are due. It is our privilege to represent our grateful nation in delivering to Veterans the programs and services they earned and deserve. For more information about Butler VA click here or call 724-287-4781. Veterans in crisis can connect with a responder anytime day or night simply by calling 800-273-8255, then select 1, or start a confidential Crisis Chat.