By Chris Bavender
When Westfield resident and U.S. Army veteran Paul Phelps came back from Iraq, he began having flashbacks.
“It scared me. I thought for sure I was going to hurt someone, and I would rather take my own life than to hurt someone else,” Phelps said. “At the time, I thought I was alone and had no other choice but to take my life. Then someone dropped everything to sit and talk with me. That little bit of kindness changed everything in my life.”
Now, Phelps wants to spread that same kindness and help veterans in need. In 2013, he founded MASH Ministries. It became a nonprofit in 2015 in Wisconsin where he lived at the time.
“There are a lot of veterans that need help and a little thing like a support group that is willing to show you’re not alone can mean a lot,” he said. “We now have five support groups with many more that will be started in the next couple of months. These groups allow people to meet with others that live near them and build a support system with people they can go get coffee and talk with anytime during the week.”
Phelps said as a veteran, he has insight into what others are going through.
“My perspective is of a disabled war veteran that struggled with post-traumatic stress. I suffered from flashbacks, nightmares, migraines, TBI and many other things from the injuries I sustained in Iraq,” said Phelps, who is an endorsed PTSD chaplain. “Our perspective is that a veteran will be more willing to talk to a veteran. A first responder is more likely to talk to a first responder. Our support groups are built so that those in your group are those that are fellow veterans and fellow first responders.”
Phelps said MASH looks at PTSD as an “injury that you can heal from, not something that you are stuck with for the rest of your life like a disorder.”
“We usually think of those with PTSD as those that are mentally weak that just couldn’t handle the pressure anymore and they cracked,” Phelps said. “A mental injury does not mean mentally weak. Would we call an athlete that has been injured physically weak? How many Olympic athletes have won medals while dealing with a major injury? Just because someone has an injury doesn’t mean they are weak. Nor does it mean they will never heal from that injury.
“They may never be the way they were prior to the injury, but they can be better than they were. It is important to change our perspective and stop the stigmas.”
Renee Applegate, a health educator at the Hamilton County Health Dept. and a Noblesville resident, also is working to help veterans.
“My teammate and I learned of the concerning number of deaths and felt we should offer to do anything we can, like linking vets to known providers,” Applegate said. “I began investigating some of the needs and searching for vet agencies in early July. I was struck by the depth of the need I discovered.”
Applegate said she hopes through support groups and links to services, veterans can move forward and create a new way to thrive and succeed.
“These men and women have served us, the U.S.,” she said. “The very least we can do is see that their most basic needs for health and well-being are met.”
“We may not understand what they have been through but someone in one of our support groups may understand,” Phelps said.
To get involved to help start a support group or participate in a support group, email Phelps at TheMashUnit4077@gmail.com. For more on MASH, visit Mashministries.org.