Former Army Sergeant Danny O’Neel served two tours in Iraq with heavy combat. On his return to civilian life, he struggled to cope with post-traumatic stress and a moderate to severe TBI.
O'Neel is now dedicated to helping other vets heal. He and his wife Faun, have cared for two veterans living in their home as those vets recover. We are grateful to Sgt. O’Neel and to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation for sharing his story with us.
What does being a military caregiver mean to you?
I try to help the guys who still aren’t sure what to do each day. They don’t know how to enrich their lives, how to make an appointment at the VA or how to get a disability rating. Being able to empower them is the biggest part for me. It doesn’t seem hard since I’ve been motivating people my whole life.
How do you find strength in the difficulty of your day-to-day?
I frequently post on Facebook and get messages and phone calls from fellow veterans who say they found strength in something I posted. I call some of my friends who aren’t on social media to check on them. I find strength when they call me and say, “I was having a bad time.” I understand my friends – I was suicidal, I tried to take my own life, I thought I was worthless. I can never forget the stuff we had to do survive that makes me forget how strong I am.
What changes did you have to make in your life to adjust to the challenges?
My communication skills, in general, have gotten a lot better. When I spoke as a squad leader it was like I was God… we were in life and death situations. As a civilian and a caregiver, I had to learn that I could handle situations with poise and not grit. The biggest change for me was learning how to listen to someone else tell me their story so that I could empathize with them. It took a lot of practice of putting aside what I had been through to focus on the person that was talking.