Archive for Monday, April 8, 2013

KU Wounded Warrior Scholarship winner’s life changed when he asked for help

April 8, 2013


Before coming to school at Kansas University, junior Anthony Schmiedeler, Kansas City, Kan., did two tours in Iraq as a sergeant with the U.S. Marines until 2009. He is currently studying graphics and is one of two winners of the university's first Wounded Warrior Scholarships.

Before coming to school at Kansas University, junior Anthony Schmiedeler, Kansas City, Kan., did two tours in Iraq as a sergeant with the U.S. Marines until 2009. He is currently studying graphics and is one of two winners of the university's first Wounded Warrior Scholarships.

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Anthony Schmiedeler had been to a war zone. But he wasn’t ready for community college.

It was one thing getting used to the fact that there were people out there trying to kill him, when he was doing two tours in Iraq as a Marine. The tougher transition, though, was going from that to the crowded hallways and classrooms of Johnson County Community College.

“It was just too many people in a little tiny area,” Schmiedeler said. “I didn’t know any of these people. I was paranoid. I didn’t trust any of these people.”

His biggest fear in Iraq had been “coming back crazy.” And, he would learn, he wasn’t crazy. He would soon be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, start undergoing therapy and begin taking medication for it. Now he’s working toward a degree in graphic design from Kansas University, as a 25-year-old junior.

And he’ll be able to get that degree without going into debt, now, because he’s one of the first two students to receive a Wounded Warrior Scholarship from Kansas University. KU’s Office of Graduate Military Programs last week announced two recipients for the scholarship, meant to help injured veterans or the family members who care for them earn KU degrees, for its first year.

For Schmiedeler — and for the husband of Jennifer Thornton of Leavenworth, the caregiver who won the other scholarship — it isn’t an injury to his body that makes him a Wounded Warrior. It’s the scars left on his brain.

Randy Masten, assistant director for the Graduate Military Programs office, said this fits perfectly with the scholarship’s mission: to offer a helping hand to people who’ve already sacrificed a lot to help out their country.

“Your life experience to the point of that injury is completely different from what it is after that event,” Masten said. “Whether caused by a physical injury or a mental one, it doesn’t change the fact that these folks can use the help.”

'Pretty surreal'

Schmiedeler’s journey to this point began when he and his twin brother, Ehren, convinced their mother to allow them to sign up for the Marine Corps when they were 17.

They entered the Marines after they graduated from high school in Kansas City, Kan., in 2005, and both trained together at Camp Lejeune, N.C. They wound up deploying twice to Iraq, at roughly the same time and in roughly the same place.

Anthony’s job was to patrol the streets of Fallujah and search for improvised explosive devices. He says he “saw a lot of crazy stuff,” and leaves it at that.

“Pretty surreal,” he said. “That’s the best way to describe it.”

Ehren provides some more detail: Anthony was fired on at least once, and his vehicle once struck a mine, but he was never seriously injured.

Nothing could have prepared him for an environment where he was constantly on lookout for someone trying to kill him, he said. But for some reason, being there wasn’t as nerve-wracking as trying to attend community-college classes after he was discharged in 2009.

All the people walking around him made him anxious. Any loud noise set off alarm bells inside. He couldn’t sleep at night, never sure if he was dreaming or having a waking flashback, and that meant he was always late to class.

He was drifting, unsure what he was really doing in school. He felt like the people walking around him were always sneaking up on him. And then when he told one of them that he’d just returned from Iraq, the first question would always be: “Did you kill anybody?”

“I didn’t know how to talk to regular people,” Schmiedeler said.

He was sort of “floating along,” he says, but then he did something about it. He contacted Veterans Affairs for help and was diagnosed with PTSD. He went to therapy and got a prescription. And all of a sudden it felt like his life had a direction to move in.

“As soon as I started talking to somebody, everything was better,” Schmiedeler said. “I was able to get those feelings out, and they told me I wasn’t the only one. And that was just nice to know.”

He hopes other veterans, too, can ask for help without fear. It’s just the right thing to do, he says.

A new path

Schmiedeler transferred to KU in fall 2010, after long feeling a connection. (One of his happiest memories from Iraq is staying up until 4 a.m. to watch the 2008 NCAA Tournament championship game. “I was the only one awake,” he said, “and I was yelling.”)

He’d always loved to draw, and he settled on graphic design as a major.

In February he won one of three student awards at an annual Kansas City American Advertising Federation ceremony for his work.

“He is amazing at what he does,” said his brother Ehren, who left the Marines at the same time as Anthony and is set to graduate in December from KU with a civil engineering degree. He was a good Marine, too, Ehren says: He was promoted to sergeant within his four years, which isn’t easy.

He’s due to graduate in spring 2014, but thanks in part to his “floating” period early on, he’ll have exhausted his post-9/11 GI Bill funding by the end of this semester. That’s where this Wounded Warrior Scholarship comes in.

The scholarship pays up to $10,000 per year, and it’s renewable for four years. The Office of Graduate Military Studies created it with the help of a number of private gifts, after the U.S. Army opted not to continue another Wounded Warrior scholarship program for graduate studies at KU. This one is open to undergraduates or graduates, injured veterans or their caretakers whose lives have been forever altered, and to veterans whose scars are physical or mental.

There may be more available in future years, Masten said, and it was tough to narrow it to two this year. But it was clear Anthony would make good use of it, he said.

“We just want to ensure that he goes from this point through graduation,” Masten said.

And now that there’s available money on the table, he might go farther. He loves school now. Schmiedeler says he’s pondering a Master of Fine Arts, which would further increase his job prospects. He hopes to do graphic design for a nonprofit or a public agency.

Now he’s got a path free of debt. And all he had to do was ask for some help. It’s not the first time he’s done that, after all.


Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 2 months ago

I had the same experience when I came back from the service. Senator Dole's office would not listen to the fact that I wanted to go to an "alternate" college - he said it had to be KU or nothing. So, like so many veterans, I was unable to use my GI Bill, and I still regret it today. Meanwhile, others who did not have to go were succeeding in business, and many other areas. I found that many of these people my age who didn't go treated me with scorn.

This is a wonderful article by Matt Erickson, and I wish both of you lots of good fortune as you go ahead.

But don't forget about all the other veterans who are trying - today- just to get medical care at VA hospitals. The lines are backed up for months. There is no problem finding Americans to serve, but when it comes time later for their care, that's a completely different story.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

I am wondering what the basis is for the statement about the lines being backed up for months to get medical care at VA hospitals. It is true that there might be some delay in getting a VA medical card, but I doubt that even that. As I recall, it took about one hour. It is true that some procedures that are not emergencies are scheduled a few weeks in advance, but an emergency is an emergency.

I would urge any vet that might possibly need care at a VA hospital to get a medical care card even if they don't need it immediately by taking their DD214 to the VA at 2200 Gage, Topeka, Kansas. If you need directions or have any questions, call 1 (800) 574-8387. You can also go to any of the other 153 VA hospitals, the nearby ones are in Leavenworth and Kansas City. A VA medical card is good for admission at any of the 153 hospitals, 773 outpatient centers, and 260 Vet Centers (counseling) nationwide.

Once you have your medical card, you are on the fast track to admission to the hospital, you will be admitted immediately for an emergency, or scheduled as soon as possible if it is not an emergency. There is a problem in that the emergency entrance for trauma is only open 8-5 M-F in Topeka (other VA hospitals are different and open 24/7), but if you check in during off hours you will be transported by ambulance for care at a private hospital at VA expense. When a bed is open for you, you will be transported back to the VA hospital.

The VA hospital in Topeka specializes in psychiatry, although surgery and other hospital services are also done. There are at least three psychiatric wards, and one PTSD ward. The psychiatrists and nurses are excellent, and there is always someone there to talk to. Your status is checked every 15 minutes, and recorded. You can stay as long as you need to at no expense if your finances are limited. If you have the means to pay, there is a co-pay involved, but it will not be overwhelming.

I certainly hope that the statement above "The lines are backed up for months." does not discourage a qualified veteran from asking for and receiving the benefits that have been earned and promised by the U.S. government. I strongly suspect that statement was made by a person who has never been a patient at a VA hospital. Or at least, certainly not the one in Topeka.

elliottaw 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't think he is talking about getting stitches for a cut here, the VA system is broken and has an extremely long backlog. It took almost 2 years for all of my paperwork to get completed and this was before these wars started. The system needs a completely over haul, or maybe they should just scrap it and give veterans free health care to use the facilities around them, i.e. local hospitals.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

That does not describe my experiences at all. I've been admitted within 5 minutes about three times, and I sure don't remember any 2 years of waiting time. Did you already have your medical card? That might have been the holdup.

And I sure was not talking about stitches for cuts, I've been in the VA hospital three times, once for 7 days, once for 9 days, and once for 11 days. And, I've been in for surgery twice. That is hardly "getting stitches for a cut".

But, it would be nice to be able to go to any hospital, instead of having to go to the VA in Topeka. But for some of my problems, the VA in Topeka really is the very best hospital for hundreds of miles. They have patients from Oklahoma, Colorado, and Wyoming, because they specialise in psychiatric services.

NotImpressed 5 years, 2 months ago

You can't even get a VA card until your paperwork is processed. I'm in the same boat. I've been waiting for over 15 months on my claim - VA won't help - and in the meantime have racked up over $12k worth of out of pocket medical expenses. Several of my friends and acquaintances have died while waiting.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

Call the number above and see if the VA can assign you a local advocate or social worker. When you meet with him/her, be sure to take your DD214, and point out that you need help right away.

NotImpressed 5 years, 2 months ago

Already did that at Eisenhower in LV. They won't do anything until the paperwork processes. Showed them my DD214. In fact, they told me that our gov't is cutting back and good luck. A new law was passed last year to deal specifically with the issue that involves me, but the VA said that it will probably take a year or two before they start processing claims that implement that law. Better yet, almost all of the specialists for the issue I have are employed by them, so I couldn't even go out and find one on the open market and my own dime. So, I am not waiting on them. Even better is that they covered what caused it up for almost 25 years.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

Topeka is the place to go, Leavenworth specializes in geriatrics, alcohol rehab, and a few other procedures. Definitely not the place to go, unless those are your problems, and you already have your VA card.

The VA card is not for a specific condition, it is only a card that shows you are veteran that is qualified to receive services.

NotImpressed 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, you've gotta be a VA patient first. That's the problem. Right now, my claim is bouncing around between Louisville and Wichita

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

Catch 22. That's why I always urge vets to apply for a medical card before they need it.

Actually, the day after you're discharged from the service would be a very good day to apply for it.

elliottaw 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't think that you are getting what is said though, for the VA to treat your service connected disability you have to be fully processed, I had my VA card after I out processed from the Army but still had to wait until they were done processing the claim before they would treat me

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 2 months ago

The first time I got a VA medical card was in 1979, I walked in and they printed one up for me right away. It was good for instant use, but I never used it. Then, many years later I was awarded a VA disability and once again, in about 2000, I walked in and they printed one up for me again. And it's good for all medical services, 100% coverage, no co-pay. But I guarantee you, you would not want to be in my situation.

But there is something fishy here - I personally know of a man who was admitted to the VA hospital at Leavenworth, and he didn't have a medical card at all. But, they discharged him the following day when they discovered that he had received a dishonorable discharge, and was therefore ineligible for VA services.

NotImpressed 5 years, 2 months ago

In my case, honorable discharge - re-enlistment code RE1A

elliottaw 5 years, 2 months ago

They system has changed a lot, I got my card right away but know people that waited even a month or 2 after they were out and it took 2-3 years to be put in the system. I can easily switch hospitals but it is the initial step that seems to be hard to make anymore.

rtwngr 5 years, 2 months ago

Thank you, both, for your contribution to this nation's freedom. 99% of the idiots at KU have no idea what that means. However, they bask in the freedom that people like you and I provide for them.

fiddleback 5 years, 2 months ago

Let me guess (based on your moniker)-- you twice voted for Dick Cheney who rushed us into the Iraq War on false premises, an elective war attempting to export our freedoms rather than a last resort to defend those freedoms at home. Would you mind explaining how our domestic freedoms were ever under any threat (except from the administration)? And actually, since Iraq represented no impending terror threat, even the idea that our soldiers' work made us safer, let alone "provided" our freedoms, is just sad wishful thinking.

Obviously, the soldiers like Anthony have no choice, and the did the best they could to leave the country better off. I honor their service and sacrifice regardless of the war's disastrous circumstances. But your bitter partisanship prevents you from stopping there; you have to try to glibly paper over the overall debacle and wallow in a ridiculous martyr complex using this facile, hollow "freedom isn't free" platitude. You scoff at the 99% of people who have no idea of the stress or carnage of war, yet you flaunt a willful denial about the tragedy of the war itself. I'd say that not only is the greater ignorance yours, but you do a disservice to the soldiers' sacrifices with such vitriolic disdain and a 1-dimensional conception of the ultimate purpose of their struggle.

Bob Forer 5 years, 2 months ago

Exceptionally well put, fiddle!!!!!!!!

miker 5 years, 2 months ago

It should be a national priority to take care of our veterans !

LeBo 5 years, 2 months ago

the University of Kansas is a fraud when it comes veterans needs and benefits. The limited Veteran Affairs assigned staff, at Strong, do the best they can. When I was deployed the Department of Student Housing moved to kick my family on the street. "I was no longer a full-time KU student." The stress was a big factor in me losing my military and civilian career of choice. KU is all pomp, the ROTC program and the memorials. the University of Kansas is all about basketball.

I give Honorable Mr. Dole major thanks. He helped me get my SGLI and GI Bill with his clout.

NotImpressed 5 years, 2 months ago

They don't care. I was treated just like everyone other student.

A second for thanks to Mr. Dole! Thanks for your sevice, LeBo!

midwestmom 5 years, 2 months ago

  1. Thank you so very much for your service! I deeply appreciate your sacrifices.
  2. Congratulations on your accomplishments!
  3. Please accept my very best wishes for your future.
  4. Your courage is inspiring to so many.
  5. I have no doubt that you will continue your many successes.

elliottaw 5 years, 2 months ago

Thank you for your service, hopefully someday we as a country can learn to treat all of our heroes better

NotImpressed 5 years, 2 months ago

Congratulations from another vet who fought the good fight after the service. VEAP would not pay for a CC (no GI Bill during the time I served), so I withdrew the $$ I contributed and used it for my first year books and tuition. From there, I was off to the races.

Good luck and Semper Fi!

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 2 months ago

Note the following article which was published in today's New York Times.

There are many other recent articles in other papers of a similar nature - how veterans have to wait often for many months to receive the most minimum of service.

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