He answered his country’s call by enlisting in the Army in September. 2005. Zach was so excited to serve his country and as his parents, we made the decision to be as supportive and positive as we could be of our only child’s decision despite our fears. He completed his basic and AIT training at Fort Jackson, SC graduating with honors as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. He was stationed at Fort Hood, TX and deployed in October 2006 to Baghdad, Iraq, serving a 15 month tour. Zach came home in January of 2008 and surprised his dad and I with a cruise for us all to the Bahamas. The differences in him were subtle at first; he drank more, but for the most part he was our happy go lucky Zach. He began experiencing problems sleeping a few months after returning from his deployment and began abusing alcohol. That eventually led to getting in trouble and leading him into alcohol abuse counseling, anger management counseling and eventually for evaluation by psychiatry. He was diagnosed at first with anxiety and because the demand on post for treatment for mental health issues was beyond what they could handle he was referred off post for his treatment. Everything seemed to be under control or so we thought.
He was deployed again to Iraq in January 2009, but just a few months into it we received a very distressing call from Zach. He had went to the pharmacy on post to get his meds refilled and was told he shouldn’t have been allowed to deploy on the meds he was prescribed. He was basically treated like a criminal at that point. His weapons were taken away and he was escorted to Landstuhl, Germany for evaluation, where physicians diagnosed him with PTSD. He was not allowed to return to Iraq; instead he was assigned to rear detachment at Fort Hood.
We were relieved to have him back stateside, but our relief was short lived. With his unit in Iraq and his family in Illinois, Zach had very little support with his new assignment and diagnosis. He denied that he had PTSD, did only what was required and started self medicating with drugs and alcohol, which led to more counseling, demotions, and eventually the med-board process.
Zach came home in early March 2010, honorably discharged and medically retired from the Army. He served his full 4 year commitment of service. We were not prepared for the son that returned home to us. I remember thinking that it had to get better, his symptoms would improve the longer he was home. How naive I was to think that.
Zach started his treatment through the VA clinic in Peoria, IL about a month after his return, but his symptoms kept getting worse; nightmares, night sweats, insomnia, sudden outbursts of anger, paranoia. After overdosing on his medications we reached out to the VA for help understanding what was going on. All we received was a clinical explanation, but no assistance in getting him the help he needed. There was no plan in place, other than to keep him medicated.
Over the course of 3 1/2 years, Zach was in and out of our home multiple times, and no matter where he was we were trying to work with the VA on getting him the proper treatment for his PTSD. In May of 2013, a friend contacted her brother regarding our frustrations with the VA. He was a Vietnam Vet that had found help in the Lasalle-Peru VA Clinic and Hines VA Hospital. We reached out to the people he referred us to and finally action was taken. Within a couple of weeks, Zach had a care plan and things looked hopeful. But all hope died for us on Sept. 6, 2013 when Zach took his life by jumping from our car on the highway home from a VA appointment. We were only 5 minutes from home.
Zach received the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and Driver and Mechanic badge.
Zach enjoyed fishing, being with family and friends and listening to music, especially Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers and John Frusciante. He had an infectious smile and was always the class clown.
We miss Zach everyday, but know he’s up in heaven, along with other veterans, cheering us all on, to move forward, but to never forget those we lost in our wars and struggles battling PTSD. We hope with the founding of the 501C3, not for profit Zachary Lee Crawford Foundation last year, we can help break the stigma of PTSD and soldier suicide. We are just starting, but we are growing stronger with the help of others. The passion is building, our mission in life is becoming clearer. We will honor our son’s life and the soldiers and veterans that selflessly served our country and strive for a better life for these men and women.”
Mike & Renee Crawford