JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Standing in line at the Commissary on Joint Base Andrews, Tech. Sgt. Lucas Mefford, 11th Civil Engineer explosive ordinance disposal craftsman, felt uncontrollable anger welling up in his chest.
“A woman was having issues with the self-checkout, and it was taking forever,” he said. “I lost it. I yelled at her, tossed my groceries aside, and left.”
For Mefford, this was rock bottom. He had spent the last five years of his life with daily symptoms of anger, depression, insomnia, headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder following several deployments, including one in 2009-2010 to Afghanistan where he lost two friends.
After coming home, he noticed he became apathetic and distant toward other people, with little desire to engage.
“When you are emotionally and physically drained, outside influences are impossible to cope with and you end up shutting down,” Mefford said. “It made it almost impossible to care about, or participate in any official capacity.”
Mefford has been an EOD technician since 2005, and though he was struggling, was worried about the possible repercussions of reaching out for help.
“There was a time when people were discouraged from seeking medical treatment or mental health help,” he said. “It was understood that if you sought help, your career would be over. People are worried they will be perceived as weak or unable to get their job done.”
In 2011, Mefford went to mental health to seek relief from his insomnia. He was prescribed sleeping medication but it did little to help.
Anxious for relief from what he was feeling and his lack of sleep, Mefford attempted to numb his pain with alcohol, drinking almost nightly.
“Add the frequent alcohol to severe depressive symptoms, and it became a struggle to balance my daily life,” he said. “The emotional rollercoaster and mood swings had placed a strain on my personal relationships. Nothing I tried was working. I eventually hit bottom after the incident at the commissary and sought help.”
Mefford started seeing a provider at mental health in 2014 at his pervious base, but his travel schedule and frequent change in providers stifled his progress.
“He was constantly having to start back at square one,” said his wife Jessica Mefford. “This process just added to the frustration and compounded the problem rather than helping it.”
Jessica began searching for alternatives and with the help of a previous patient from the program, urged her husband to seek help through the National Intrepid Center of Excellence program, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“My wife Jessica is my biggest advocate and has pushed me to get help in every way possible,” Mefford said. “I do not think that I would be ok if it weren’t for her. She fought for me, and made me fight for myself. In my experience, you have to be your own advocate because no one else can do it for you.”
Mefford was accepted to the Department of Defense in-patient program in 2016 which allowed him to focus primarily on his health, without the interruptions of daily life. The program specializing in traumatic brain injury and psychological well-being allows the patients to stay on campus and leave their job to attend appointments and focus fully on their health.
“NICoE is exactly what military medicine should be; patient-focused,” Mefford said. The program allowed me to step away from the mission and focus on me.”
Over a 30 day period, he attended 60 appointments with specialists and general practitioners. He talked about his health concerns and a plan was implemented to diagnose and treat him.
Now home, Jessica has seen a significant change in his mood.
“He seems to be able to better separate the things that he has control over from the things he does not,” she said. “I have noticed him utilizing the breathing techniques taught during the course at NICoE. Following the program, I noticed he appears to be focusing his attention on the things that he can affect change on and less on the things that are outside of his control.”
Mefford has finally found some relief and is back at work, and continuing his treatment plan at JBA with hopes to stay on the right path.
“I want to find my version of happiness,” Mefford said. “The problems I have didn’t just go away. It’s not something that I’ll just spontaneously heal from, but I’m learning to live with it in a healthy way.”