Speaker 1 00:00:04 Born and raised in New York city CQ, as he calls himself, joined the army right out of high school and went into airborne infantry. He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and then Afghanistan in 2005, that's where he was critically wounded and shot five times. The next two years, he spent recovering in the hospital and underwent over 40 plus surgeries even died twice. He retired medically in 2007 and since then has been battling through the physical and mental wounds of war. He started a standup comedy in 2017 and launched his pop culture talk show and podcast called pop culture warrior. It is really cool to get to interview a veteran who has many different disabilities, many of which, who are invisible and visible. And we go into detail talking about his journey of being in war and what that's like, and then returning to civilian life and what that has been like for him, having, going through many surgeries, occupational therapy, physical therapy, um, relying on different devices to be able to thrive and talking about veteran homelessness and just the PTSD that comes with it and watching his friends undergo that as well.
Speaker 1 00:01:27 And we also talk about different organizations that have been helpful for him, such as wounded warrior project and CCI, which is the canine companion, independent service dog organization. Also, if you haven't done so download the mobile app, I access life using referral code card in my name C a R D E N. And that is found on the Google play store and also the Apple app store and rate places on their entrance, the parking, the interior space. It gives your feedback through looking the lens of a disability to create transparency and break down the barriers in the built environment I access life is the mobile app. And I welcome you now to this wonderful episode with CQ who is a disabled veteran enjoy welcome back to another episode of free, willing with carton. I have CQ in the house connecting virtually.
Speaker 2 00:02:30 I'm very good, very excited to be here
Speaker 1 00:02:33 So much. And I'm really interested in hearing more about your story being a veteran and returning back into society and integrating with that, but also experiencing physical and mental obstacles along the way. So talk to me a little bit about that though. I know that's a very open ended question.
Speaker 2 00:02:53 Yeah. Like where do we start? So I was born in no.
Speaker 3 00:03:01 Um, so I think it it's important to know, you know, I'm, I'm originally from New York city and I was a senior in high school when nine 11 happened. And so that obviously had a very profound effect on me and kind of the course that my life was going to take. And so I graduated high school and immediately joined the army and it's through what's called a delayed entry program. So even though I know it took a couple months before I was actually in, so I didn't start till about January of 2003. And so I, I joined the army. I signed up to be an airborne infantry man, the guy jumps out of planes and
Speaker 2 00:03:44 You get to the bad guys. That's, I'm sorry. I said wild wine over there. Pretty much, pretty much. I want it. I want it. I want it to be on the
Speaker 3 00:03:54 Lines I wanted to. I felt like that's where I could make the most difference. I didn't want to sit behind a desk or anything. I want it to be out there doing stuff. And so I joined when the basic everyone school, eventually I got stationed in Italy of all places with the one 73rd airborne brigade. And for people that know their military history in 2003, we were the unit that jumped into Iraq. We were part of the invasion force into Iraq. We largest airborne operations to the most recent airborne operation in combat since Vietnam. So we jumped in, I spent about 15 months in the lovely country of Iraq fighting the bad guys, went back to Italy, train, train, train for about a year. And then we were deployed against Afghanistan. And in this second combat tour, we were going to be there for a year again.
Speaker 3 00:04:45 And I made it six months through that deployment where we were during combat operations. We were coming in on black Hawks and looking for bad guys doing the thing and my team got ambushed. And so one of my teammates got shot first and had been shot twice to the leg. And so he was kinda, he went down and, and, and was in, out in the open and was still being fired at. And so I kind of left cover. I ran out to him, grabbed him and dragged him back to cover in the process of doing so I was shot a few times. And then once I got him back to safety, I went to reengage the enemy and continued the fight and I shot twice more. Um, and at that point, my body decided that, uh, I needed to take a little nap and, uh, got real sleepy real fast.
Speaker 3 00:05:34 And, um, yeah, I, I collapsed and I'd been shot, uh, through my left bicep, through my right shoulder, through my right hand and once in the chest and one's kind of in the abdomen. And so I was fortunate that the armor I was wearing protected the vital organs for the most part, but the impact of those rounds while they didn't penetrate my armor, uh, shattered all the ribs on my left side, collapsed my lung, cause, uh, know a ton of internal bleeding. Um, and then the bullets that went to my arm and my shoulder, my hand obviously did a substantial amount of damage. And so I was fortunate enough that, uh, my team did what it had to do. We, we fought back and had great air support and foot back the enemy, and they were able to get me out of there, get me immediate medical aid.
Speaker 3 00:06:25 We have really good combat medics with us. He kept me alive long enough for us to get back to the base. I went into immediate surgery and this little mud hut in the middle of the country. And, uh, they put me out for about three days. I was medically induced in a coma and did the best they could for me. Obviously I sustained really, really bad damage. Um, yeah, the internal bleeding shattered bones in both arms, shoulder chests. Um, yeah, it was touch and go for a little bit. I actually, uh, died once on the, how do I say after that surgery, they, they transported me back to the main base in the biggest base in the country. Cause obviously I wasn't going to be returning to duty anytime soon. So they sent me back to the main base and actually in transit, I actually flat lined.
Speaker 3 00:07:10 They were able to bring me back, got back to the main base was there for a couple of days, from there to Germany where we have like a kind of a layover, there's a hospital there called, um, launch tool there for a few days. I was way too damaged for them to do anything. They're like, this is way beyond our, our capabilities. So they stabilized me as best they could for few days sent me back stateside and to Washington D C to Walter Reed army medical center. When I got there, sorry. No, I got my days I died on that flight from, from Germany to DC is where I flat line. They were able to bring me back. And then, uh, I was in Walter Reed for total of two years of six months. I was in the hospital proper, like in the intensive care, in the orthopedics ward, I underwent 40 something surgeries, including dying once in surgery that they had to bring me back again.
Speaker 3 00:08:08 And so after about six months I was held like, typically I should have stayed in the hospital, but because I was ambulatory, I was able to walk around. After about six months, there was just such an influx of guys getting injured and filling up the hospital that they're like, we need beds for the most critical guys. And so even though I still required surgeries, even though I still required therapy and things, they put me in like a hotel next door since I could walk. And so they're like just walk in and out of the hospital every day for your appointments and surgeries and stuff. And you know, we need beds for other guys. So total I was in the hospital for about two years and then eventually, uh, medically retired. And I've been living the, the disabled veteran retiree status since, since about 2007. So yeah, a couple of years now,
Speaker 1 00:08:58 Thank you so much for just sharing and being so vulnerable about your injuries and sure. He died and here still standing, which is amazing, right? It's, there's always a reason. I feel like, you know, my personal value is that I do believe that there is a higher being who, what that is and where it is and how you see it is this is unique and for your own personal view, but that's definitely, you have quite that quite the journey and to say the least,
Speaker 3 00:09:29 Yeah, not the most traditional routes to get here, but, but, uh, you know, it it's, I wouldn't change it for anything, you know, and, uh,
Speaker 1 00:09:40 And I feel like a lot of people's stories, they, if they could do life over again, they usually say they wouldn't do it over again because it's made them who they are today. And while you were in the hospital, what was that emotional impact on you? And were you facing any mental health issues
Speaker 3 00:10:01 There? You know, so the mental health stuff, funny enough really didn't take effect until years later, there was such a focus on the physical being, right. And, and, and rightfully so, because while you could die of mental health stuff, longterm, like really the physical stuff is going to kill you a lot faster. So, you know, the focus was on the physical being and, and while they've gotten a lot better addressing mental health stuff, this is 2005. When I got injured, it was still not really good, solid grasp of the severity of this stuff that we understand today. And so in terms of like PTSD, it was the quiet, like, you know, they call it like stoke shock and Vietnam and things like that. Like, it wasn't as well diagnosed. It wasn't as well treated. It was, it was, it was that, you know, that just the quiet killer for many years.
Speaker 3 00:11:00 And, um, and again, they were just seeing such an influx of guys. It was like, treat, treat what you can see. And, and so physically they busted their ass to get me as good as the Canon. And really, even my focus was so much on okay, first staying alive then, you know? Yeah. And then, and then when I, when I first got to the hospital, I even asked the doctors, I was like, Hey, like, how bad is it? Like, what am I looking at here? Like, you know, and, and army doctors, don't, don't mince words. They don't, they don't sugar coat anything. So he looked right at my sheet and he looks at me. He goes, well, based on what I'm seeing, there's a 80% chance you're going to lose one of your arms and a 60% chance you're gonna lose both. And I was just like, wow, those aren't great odds.
Speaker 3 00:11:50 Um, yeah. And I just, so that's where my, my mental focus was, was what can I do to improve those odds? What can I do to, you know, keep my arms and things. And, and over the course of those months, many months, it was versus like, okay, your arms are looking better. And, and it was really a lot of, it was out of my control, right? It's how good the surgery takes, you know, how good the therapy takes, how well your body just naturally heals all this, you know, plays into effect. So they couldn't really promise anything, but I had some great surgeons. I had some great doctors. I had some great nurses, great therapists. And it just a will to like, if they told me do one hour of physical therapy, I was doing three to six hours of physical therapy a day because I just want it to do what I, what I had control over.
Speaker 3 00:12:36 And so, you know, originally the prognosis was okay now only one arm is in jeopardy. Okay. Both arms are fine, but the extent of the nerve damage is such that you'll never be able to use your hands again. So they even recommended once they told me, okay, your arms are in the clear, like, but we'd recommend you amputate electively so that you can get a jumpstart on using, you know, the, the cloth stuff, because that's where you're headed. And you're going to have a better quality of life. If you have that versus just two stumps that don't do anything. And I was like, let's, let's hold off on that since it's elective. And I could do that at anytime. That's the wait a little while. Um, and so, you know, they monitor because when you have arms that are, they're so damaged, they, I mean, they can get all types of, you know, and, and, and disease and infections and things like that.
Speaker 3 00:13:27 So I was just very fortunate. I had a couple of scares, but again, just kept fighting, kept fighting and fighting and little by little, it, it looked better. At one point I had really good use of my arms and my hands. I was starting to, to regain kind of, you know, use and function. But then I got a really bad infection in my arm and they had to reopen it up and do things. And then that, like, they kind of severed a nerve that was kind of important. And so I'd lost the ability to use my hands again. And there's a whole thing. And, uh, and yeah, just a lot of therapy, a lot of, um, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and I've been able to get, you know, somewhat use of kind of the hands, you know, they're not, they're not great. They're not perfect, but I guess they'll play video games, which was, which is a big concern for me early on.
Speaker 3 00:14:13 It was like, can I still play video games? And you know, I'm not gonna be playing piano or guitar anytime. Or I used to, I used to do magic as a kid, so I could do all these crazy shuffles and like slide a hand. That's not really in my wheelhouse anymore. But, um, but you know, if you, I'm sure you understand you, you rebel and things you can do. Yeah. You know, you, you learn to adapt and, and, and be happy with what you have and, and, and make the best of it. And that's what we do.
Speaker 1 00:14:41 Right. And I think so many people ask me and I'll ask the same question to you is how do you first Revere through it all and how you just continue to have that mindset.
Speaker 3 00:14:55 Yeah. I mean, it's, I don't know. Yeah. This is my, my answer is just like, what's your other alternative? Right. Just lay down and just wait to die. Okay. Any minute.
Speaker 1 00:15:07 Hi. Again, the third time for you.
Speaker 3 00:15:09 I tell people, I plan on making the next one stick. I'm not doing this again. So the third time's the charm I'm done. I quit after that. Um, I really shouldn't be here, but if I, if I can do this, keep doing this, um, no, you know, it's, it's just, yeah. It's, I, I, you know, I went like everybody else. I went through a period of why me, I went through a period of, you know, this isn't fair, you know, some survivors guilt, uh, you know, we lost, we lost a lot of good guys and, and, and, you know, uh, some, some, you know, guys, we were like, I don't know, can I, can I curse on this or do I have to censor myself?
Speaker 3 00:15:46 I just, you know, there's, there's guys in the military. They're like, okay, this is an asshole. Like, why, why not him? Why not him he's but you know, things like that. Uh, no, it's just, I just, I came to accept, it's the reality. It's, it's what we're faced. You can whine and cry and complain and all that, but it's not going to change anything. And so if I can have, and, and again, this was not an overnight epiphany. This took years of like counseling and therapy and, and, you know, putting good people around me and not having toxic people and toxic environments. And, but I've now mastered years later, the idea that, you know, I can control only the things I can control. I can, I can, I can choose, you know, what I want to be happy about and what I want to enjoy, you know, and surround myself with good people and things like that. And that, and that, to me, that's worth more than just a little more hand dexterity or an extra finger or, or, you know, back that doesn't go out every couple of months and, and, you know, all the things that I gotta deal with.
Speaker 1 00:16:50 Sure. And I actually do want to dive a little bit into that and cause you kind of have two parts, right? Invisible disabilities. When we first scheduled this, you emailed me and was like, you know, having back spasms, I can't do the podcast today. And you went and you went to the hospital right before that. And obviously I, you showed me that you're missing a finger. So that is the visible aspect of it. And then even the dexterity is not really noticeable unless you tell someone and like, someone's really looking at it. So kind of have a lot of different combinations of visible and invisible disabilities. How do you, how does the world see those or don't see them? How do they feel?
Speaker 3 00:17:35 You're absolutely right. I'm, I'm one of the fortunate few that, you know, when, you know, as a disabled veteran and you know, you get your paperwork and you'll get a percentage, right? They'll say like you're 10% disabled. You're 30%, but disabled my paperwork, it says it's a, I'm a hundred percent disabled based on my injuries and the extremities and the cause. I mean, they rate everything from like loss of extremities, loss of range of motion, loss of strength, loss of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. There's a lot of ways that they categorize what's which rating is, I'm one of the few guys that would be at a hundred percent, that is at a hundred percent. But if you looked at me fully closed, I look fine. Right. You know, and it's, it's a very, I don't know, it's a, it's a double edged sword, I think sometimes because while I can understand, you know, I have friends that burns all over their face, missing their ears, missing an arm, missing a leg, crazy prosthetics and crazy equipment that they need to have.
Speaker 3 00:18:36 And you can obviously see that they're treated differently. You can see that they're reacted to differently and people stare and like, you can see that and I can understand how hurtful it is and how difficult it is. And I know guys that have difficulty, you know, interacting with the world and I don't, I don't get those looks. I don't get that treatment. I don't get that in a good way. I mean like, like obviously I'm treated like I'm a normal, like everyone should be treated, but at the same time, then I'm also the guy, you know, we have events for disabled veterans. Hey, let's, let's get together. Let's do something. And then it's everyone else is like, okay. Yeah, I get why you're here. I get why you're here. I get, and they're like, they look at me like, what are you doing here? And it's like, Oh, so because I don't look that way.
Speaker 3 00:19:20 I'm immediately kind of, I, once this is around community. Yeah. It happens. See that you're disabled. It happens. I, I, once, um, so there was, you know, and we're skipping a lot of stuff, but I want, there was a time in my life where I wasn't working, I wasn't doing anything. I was kind of just trying to get my head back, screwed on trade. And, you know, I would, I would get with other organizations that, that helped out disabled veterans so that I could be around people like me because I didn't know anyone like me. And so I signed up to do this one event and they wrote me back and they said like, yeah, sorry, this isn't, this isn't for guys like you. And I said, well, it says here it's for disabled veterans or anything like, yeah. You know, we only cater to guys that have amputations.
Speaker 3 00:20:05 I was like, Oh, that's such a weird, specific thing that I got shot five times and died, but I'm not disabled enough for you because I didn't have, I didn't lose a foot. You know, I know there's no obviously conversation. I have no judgment over anybody nobody's better than, or worse than anybody else. But you know, I know guys that, you know, lost a foot or loss below the knee and they 30% disabled, 40% disabled, I'm a guy that's a hundred percent disabled rated by the government and I'm for them. And I kind of get it because as an organization, you have donor dollars and what looks sexier me or the guy missing a leg, that's, it's obvious you can see it. And so for those organizations, they were like, look, we're using the money on disabled veterans. And if I show them a picture of me, they're gonna be like, bullshit that, that guy's not a disabled veteran.
Speaker 3 00:21:03 Like I gotta be like, um, but, but I get it. I, you know, you know, appearances are appearances can be deceiving. Like I get it. But yeah, sometimes it does feel like, Oh, I'm, I'm, I'm not normal enough to be a normal person. And I'm not disabled looking enough to be a disabled person. I get to be right in the middle. And I get to be one of like neither world kind of. And then, and then, you know, add on all the mental stuff that we go through. And, uh, it can be tough. Can be tough.
Speaker 1 00:21:34 Oh, you're not disabled enough. CQ.
Speaker 3 00:21:36 Sorry about I'm on the wrong podcast. I got to go. All right. This is, I'm not nearly not nearly enough.
Speaker 1 00:21:42 This show won't go live. You're not disabled enough. Wow. Well, I think that's just, I was in a disability training today, which was absolutely incredible. It was one that I've never experienced before. It was led by two black people who are disabled. And the reason I preface the fact that it's led by black people is because there's just such a lack of representation for disabilities other than white people, and also disabilities that, you know, you're not disabled enough kind of thing. And you know, things like autism and a lot of other individual invisible disabilities that you can't see with the eyes, people check you and they're like, wait, do you have a medical card? Can you prove it to me? And it's like, how can I improve that? I have cysts on my brains or I'll kind of prove to you that I have nerve damage and I have back spasms. Like, do you, do you need evidence?
Speaker 3 00:22:42 Right? Yeah. I have to carry around my disabled veteran card. You know? No, I, I have, I, I help run a, uh, a disabled veteran support group locally. And we have guys that are like me physical injuries, mental injuries. But we have guys that while serving developed brain cancer and we welcomed them. I mean that because you weren't combat wounded and blah, blah, blah. Like, no, I don't care. Like you're going through something and you need people to be around you and to understand you, and we're here for you. You know, we have guys who, uh, had, um, I don't know, it was like back issues. We've had guys with like, non-combat, this is, we even have MST survivors, which is military sexual trauma. And I, the way I look at it is that's that is traumatic that's trauma. That is, that is a disability.
Speaker 3 00:23:31 It's something you're dealing with post-military. So you're welcome to, you know, to the group. And so we don't categorize who's wounded enough or wounded, you know, or, or how they were wounded or why they were wounded. And I don't care. It's a guy that fell off a truck in a training exercise, or a guy that was dragging another guy through combat. It doesn't matter. You know, we're, we're all just trying to find our place in this world and be in a place that accepts us and understands us. And that's what, that's what we do when we meet.
Speaker 1 00:24:01 I think the world oftentimes views disability through kind of like this charity and tragedy model. Do you see that? And so as a preface, what that means for those who aren't aware, the charity model, being all people with disabilities need help. They're helpless. They feel pity for them. And you almost have this inspiration porn, you know, helping people with disabilities earns you a gold star and a gold medal. I saw there was a video. It was the news piece where there was a boy with autism who was very fascinated by stocking the grocery orange juices and an employee stopped and took the time and, you know, allowed this customer to help him stock the orange juice, because he was so fascinated by it. And it went viral and the news and media all like, wow, look how amazing the story is. And this person was such a nice human being. It's like, if we were to take autism and also the, the boy was, was nonverbal. So if you were to take that out and the disability out, would this still be newsworthy? And the answer is no, it's not going to be newsworthy.
Speaker 3 00:25:12 Does it help some kid? Is that news at 11?
Speaker 1 00:25:16 Okay. So is that really newsworthy? No, it's not. And so that's kind of the charity model and deserving pity and Oh, gee gold star. And here's a full ride scholarship because he, all people disabilities. Yeah. And then that medical model of student of the disability needs to be cured. Like for me, I have muscular dystrophy. And so a lot of organizations when I was growing up were very, um, you have to find a cure because this is the worst thing that can happen to them. And so a lot of them have shifted their language now because that's, that's not really reality. Yeah. It really is.
Speaker 3 00:25:55 Look at this pathetic person who, who will never live a normal life and really deserves all your pity. And like, God damn it. I'm right here.
Speaker 1 00:26:03 I know like say that to my face. Um, but I, I'm interested in hearing, you know, with those veteran disabled veteran groups and organizations, is it common to see, I mean, you kind of talked about one of them you're not disabled enough, but is that common in all these other groups that you see for disabled veterans or are they actually there to help support you and put you back on your feet?
Speaker 3 00:26:27 It's it's, I mean, I'm going to speak very honestly now, and there's some great organizations out there that just, as I'm sure with, with the disability community, there's some really great organizations that really wants what's best and really want to help and really want to put the time and effort and not just play, not just, you know, make a story, not just re you know, they want to do the right thing. Now I can see too part of that is there is a fundraising aspect, right? Cause if they don't have money, they can't do it. So there has to be a fundraising and you have to be honest about, who's going to donate money to come on. Like they need help or look at this poor person and they're dying. And, but like, I get it from a business perspective, they're selling out in a way too, but to get the money, to do the right thing.
Speaker 3 00:27:19 And I, and so I respect that. I understand that there are some organizations that I feel are a, you have the groups that are, are not in it for the right reasons. And just, and this was really popular from like 2007 to like 2013. We had thousands of these popup. We support the veteran organizations and we're, you know, this for the troops and tags for heroes and soldiers for rides and all these different groups that just popped up overnight and we're collecting money and who knows where that money went. It was just an easy way to, to garner funds and things. Um, and there's a few organizations even out today that, you know, I've, I've spend time with and I see how they kind of run. And you see Mike, you talk a big game, but behind the scenes, you know, how, how are you really helping people?
Speaker 3 00:28:16 How are you really allocating those funds? You know, are you putting yourself above and beyond those people? Are you, are you using those able to get to your, the platform you want to be at or whatever it is. And then there's just some organizations that, uh, that like we talked about with the, with the, you're not disabled enough where you might be doing the right thing, but there's so exclusive. Like I literally, we know of an organization that will only help you if you were wounded specific country during a specific timeframe. And it's like, and that's like, okay, that's great for the people that like the vets. I mean, I get, I get it that there has to be some sort of boundaries, right? If you, if you had an organization trying to cure or Parkinson's, well, then you can't be helping others that don't have park.
Speaker 3 00:29:03 Cause then that's, that's outside of your right. But there's also like, man, that's a very tight, tight, Oh, for like, like how many people are you going to help? Like 10 people, like there's, you know, that, that was just so specific. And then, you know, the other one that is only for, or, you know, uh, amputees and I I've seen, you know, other organizations where like, if you don't have a wheelchair, then we're not, it's going to help you. And I, and I, and I get it, those people do need help, fortunately, for veterans. And, and what I feel is a disadvantage are those that have physical disabilities, not of the military variety, you know, there's a plethora
Speaker 4 00:29:42 Of veteran organizations. There's hundreds of Google veteran organization. And it's just like a billion of them where I can understand someone who let's say again, Parkinson's just the ones that jump off my head, but there may be three, four, five, maybe in the country, you know, that can help them. And so as veterans, I guess, you know, being that, you know, we're just disabled or injured in combat or wounded, or however you want to put it, it's nice to have options, I guess, is the best word to put it. But, but I can understand where that's not, it's not the case for everybody. And that's sad.
Speaker 1 00:30:18 Are there examples of organizations that you do like that you would be comfortable sharing the name? Yeah,
Speaker 4 00:30:25 Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, there's some very small ones that are kind of region specific or local in certain areas. I've been fortunate that I've bounced around a lot over the years, but there's very small ones that are very regional specific. That to me, a good organization is one that it's not going to give you money. Right? Cause there, there are organizations like, Hey, you're down on your luck. We'll provide you, you know, you lost your job. We'll cover you your rent for two months or something like that. And that's great. That's an awesome thing that they can do. I don't think that that's a, that's a bandaid. That's not a fixed, you know what I mean? Like it, it doesn't fix the problem. And so a great organization, and this is probably the most widely recognized one national one wounded warrior project. And the word project is a great organization that really it's, it's not about like, there's a term, like we're not giving you a handout.
Speaker 4 00:31:17 We're giving you a hand up, you know, it's about the whole model is built on empower. So they do like, you know, resume writing. They do how to cook healthy. Like they do free, everything's free for the, for the registered, you know, we call them alumni or the registered alumni everything's free. Nothing. They don't, they don't, there's no dues, there's no membership fees, nothing. It's all free. And they're just trying to help, you know, establish and raise like the best generation of disabled veterans this country has ever seen, which is just an awesome thing. It's a big challenge, but they provide a lot of really cool services. And so if you're a disabled veteran, if you know someone who's disabled veteran, I highly recommend it costs nothing. It's free to sign up. And uh, yeah, it's a great program. And there's a, there's a, there's a bunch of them.
Speaker 4 00:32:05 This is a bunch of them like, you know, locally, I'm in the Maryland area. Now, you know, we have ASAP is armed services, arts partnership. It's a great program that again, I love organizations that teach skills and teach you how to improve your life and empower life. They teach arts. So they teach, you know, painting, they teach stain glass, they teach all these different arts and they even do written word poetry. They do a standup comedy class, like all these things that are really cool. And that's how I got into comedy and started doing comedy for a while. And so that's a great program. That's going to teach a skill that will better their life. And it's not about, and the cool thing about that one is that was not specifically for disabled veterans. That's just open to any veteran family member, whatever, again, free.
Speaker 4 00:32:49 So that's, that's always a plus, but yeah, there's, there's some really great organizations I highly recommend if there are veterans that listen and want to know more like you can easily Google like disabled veteran organizations or, you know, near me or things like that. Cause there's some really good local ones and there's a few really good national ones. And again, we're, we're blessed that there's so many that they can even be a little niche. There's a great organization that does video games for veterans. Like it, it takes veterans and, you know, Hexham up with, with, with video games and takes them to different events and things like that. And so, you know, we're, we're fortunate that way. So, um, yeah,
Speaker 1 00:33:30 That's wonderful hearing about the wounded warrior project I've heard of them and our company has volunteered with them a number of times. So that's awesome. That's great to hear that you veteran approved.
Speaker 4 00:33:43 Yes. Yes. I know me and a lot of guys can and it says, and I know there was a, there was a year that they had some bad press because of like inappropriate spending, whatever. And the news loves to golf. The golf. The news loves to kind of like push all that stuff out and then do a small retraction later because an independent audit was done. Nothing was, was out of the ordinary. Um, but since then, they've even like doubled down on like being very responsible, um, like donor dollars and stuff. But, but yeah, no, they, they, uh, they're a great organization. I've, I've been a part of them since like 2009 and to see them grow and offer more and more programs and services has been pretty cool. So,
Speaker 1 00:34:23 And programs and services to help elevate you to empower you, that's their mission. And because I w when you, when you go to combat and then return home your life, I'm sure is totally different. I mean, what you were doing in combat, how do you translate that into a corporate world or into a regular job, or, you know, all those skills that you've learned in combat don't necessarily translate over correctly into, you know, an admin skill that you can be hired in the corporate world. And so I've listened to a number of talks, especially with disabled veterans, that those don't translate over well. And it's almost, it's an issue because you may have been, I mean, I don't know all the technical terms, but like submarine mechanic one, two, three, four something, but it's like, how does that translate to being an account executive at a sales company, right. It's true.
Speaker 4 00:35:24 You make a great point. Cause there's, you know, if you're a mechanic, there's some skills or, you know, if you're a cook, there's some skill you're in legal, there's some even administrative, there's some kind of way to make it work. But a guy me who was airborne infantry, my, my top two skills are jumped out of a plane and survive and shoot bad guys. There's not a lot of places I can apply those skills to in the civilian sector. And a lot of you see a lot of different, you guys come out and become bodyguards, become bouncers, become, you try to get into the police force, but that's actually pretty tough if you don't have an education, you know, they go, they end up like mall security or building security. They end up, I know a lot of guys that end up in construction just because it's it's so they, they can bust their back.
Speaker 4 00:36:10 That's what they've done for years. And so, um, it's, it's a, it's a real problem. It's a real problem. And I, and I know a lot of corporations have tried hard to secure veterans and, and they do, and they, they do a good job. Fortunately, a lot of times, it's that captain who was college educated and, you know, they're the ones that get recruited, not the guy that was humping 50 pound rucksacks up and down mountains, uh, getting shot at because we'll have transferable skills. And so I actually, I was very fortunate that that was me. That was me for many years. And when I got to a point where I was mentally set and physically set and wanted to kind of get back into the workforce through the VA, the veterans administration, there was a, I was able to get part in this training program where they were specifically looking for disabled veterans with little to no education to train them, to do.
Speaker 4 00:37:00 Uh, I got into the it field and I liked computers, but I didn't know anything about software and, and engineering and all these things. And so they trained me for three years and, um, and then when I done the training, they offered me a job in the VA. So very fortunate, but yeah, that's, I'm one out of, you know, how many hundred thousand that come out and have no idea what they're going to do. And so I was lucky enough to get a good job and I worked for the government and things like that. And, you know, it's, it's, it's not the case for everyone, uh, in my position.
Speaker 1 00:37:34 Right. And also thinking about the financial impact is do you return back into society? You know, there's typically a high homeless population for veterans, huge. And then getting back on your feet, how is that for not only you're coming back from combat, you're going through all of this rehab, and then you have your mental health issues set on, and you're also trying to get a job and make a living and put food on your table. What does that financial burden like?
Speaker 4 00:38:05 Yeah. It's not easy because as much as I'd love to say that, Oh, I was medically retired. So I'm living off this retirement and like, yeah, I could probably baby pay rent for a small place and eat with that money. There's not much else I could do with it. And as a, I think I was 23 when I retired, but as a 23 year old, you're like, well, I guess this is the rest of my life. Just pay rent and eat. And I just don't get to do anything else. And it's, it's a hard thing to live with, you know, cause even for those that don't know, like even as a hundred percent disabled person, I was only, I mean, I served six years. I was a Sergeant in the army. That's not a very high rank. It's okay for six years. But so you take your pay.
Speaker 4 00:38:51 And even though I'm a hundred percent disabled, part of your medical retirement is you can only make, I think Axiom 70 to 75% of what you were making. So I'm now living on 70 to 75% of what I was making as an active service member at a pretty low rank. I was a Sergeant. And you know, even when I was in the military, I was eating free at the chow hall. I was getting a stipend for clothes. I wasn't paying rent because I was living in the barracks. So that money gets stretched a lot thinner. And so like, my wife had to work, you know, the first couple of years she took care of me, but it got to a point where like, if we want things at all, we're going to need more money coming in. And so she went back to work while I stayed home for many years, trying to just, you know, get, pick up the pieces and, and, you know, we, we did okay.
Speaker 4 00:39:43 We did. Okay. You know, I'll, I'll be the first one that, you know, when my wife was taking care of me, she wasn't working, you know, the VA had a program that would pay, pay for caregivers. So instead of, you know, be hiring someone to help me out, they basically paid my wife to do it. So that way she could be with me, she didn't have to worry about working and she could focus on me. And so we got that little bit of money and, you know, social security and things like that. There's programs to help people in need. And with all that, we were able to just scrape up enough. It, we had a small house and, you know, just live comfortably and in it, you know, after many years it was like, you know, she went back to work. And so you give up some of the, you know, like the caregiver and things like that because she went back to work to try to make more money so that we could live better.
Speaker 4 00:40:28 That's the idea. Right. And you know, we didn't, we decided not to have kids because like, I didn't want to worry about, uh, like, okay, that that's a Mount defeat. Like, how are we going to make ends meet? And, you know, we were just doing bare, barely good enough for us. And so she started working again and try to make a little more, and then it got to a point where I was like, okay, maybe I can contribute to, and we tried it out and it's been, it's been okay. And you know, it's, it's, it's tough. It's not easy. It's taken years to get into a good position. And then now we have our son because I felt like, okay, we can actually afford a child. Um, and you know, it's, it's, it hasn't been easy, but you make it work right.
Speaker 1 00:41:09 Every day. You just keep chipping at it. And for you, you have gotten really into comedy. So what point were you thinking that was what you were gonna do then you're trying to figure out what you were going to do.
Speaker 4 00:41:25 Yeah, it's funny. It's funny how I kinda got into it because, you know, I started working again and I was working for two or three years, four years maybe. And I was still, still struggling. It's still, it's still, every day is a battle and still deal with depression. Still deal with anxiety, social anxiety, real bad, where I, I have trouble with crowds and being around people. I don't know.
Speaker 1 00:41:46 We don't have to worry about crowds now because of hope exactly
Speaker 4 00:41:51 It was the best thing that's ever happened to me. I have been the happiest I've been in
Speaker 1 00:41:56 Be like, don't have to touch anyone. Don't have to shake anyone's hands as I write hand.
Speaker 4 00:42:00 Awesome. I don't have to deal with anybody at all. Great. Um, but yeah, it got to a point where I was just, I was doing okay, but I was still kind of, you know, in a bubble, I was still kind of closed off and still having my own things. And I found out about that program, the program that teaches veterans to do stand up comedy. And it was just in my head, I thought, okay, here's a way to, you know, bust out of my bubble. Here's a way to challenge myself. Here's a way to push myself outside my comfort zone. And it's a six week class once a week. And I was like, okay, I'm going to do it. I'm going to say I did it. I'm gonna cross it off the bucket list. I did that. And then, and hopefully it helps me feel more comfortable in crowds and things like that.
Speaker 4 00:42:46 And then what happened was, is that when I did it, I really had fun. I was with other veterans, which is my favorite place to be around other veterans. And it was just so uplifting because even though, you know, standup comedy is a very singular thing. It's very solo sport, but we were kind of doing it together as a group. And it was so much fun just making each other laugh and, you know, writing material. And I fell in love with the process of how do I take my world? Cause you know, some people just write jokes. I tend to be a storyteller. I tend to be, take real life and put a fun spin on it. And so the joy of taking all the things that I've been through, right. How I grew up, my injuries living as a disabled veteran, I have a lot of jokes about that.
Speaker 4 00:43:35 And you know, how can I put that in a humorous, you know, funny spin, how can I make the audience comfortable laughing at my misfortunate, my disabilities and my injuries? Um, yeah, self deprecations are a huge part of comedy. And so that I had so much fun doing. And then in the last week you do like a little mini performance for family and friends. And I just got such a thrill, making people laugh and, and, and like, don't get me wrong. Like I was a stress ball of stress mess right before going on stage. And like I was, I, I swear to God, I stepped on stage and I went, Oh my God, I can't remember a single joke. And like, it took me a second to kind of like catch my brain to catch up. But once I was doing it, it was so much fun. I kind of caught the comedy bug as they say. And, um, so yeah, I started going to open mikes and doing festivals and entering competitions and doing all that stuff. And I had a really, really good time with it. And then it took me a couple of years. I did it. And it was, it took me to where I'm at now doing the other thing, but it's it's um, it was great. I still love it. I still love doing comedy.
Speaker 1 00:44:46 Well, give us this. You self-deprecating liners,
Speaker 4 00:44:53 Never ask it comedians to tell jokes. It's it. If you want to see my company, you keep me, I have clips online. I have it. It's just, you know, again, I'm a storyteller. So like I'll be on a five, six minute tangent trying to tell a joke because it's comedy based. But I will tell you if you find my clips on, I talk about how, um, you know, I, one time in the military, this is a true story. I filled a Humvee with, uh, you know, runs on diesel and I filled it with water instead of, instead of diesel gas and ended of yeah. And the hole, it was accidentally accidentally. Um, the, the, the joke is one story is a very exaggerated version of the story. The true story is I just, I was very new and, um, I mixed up the cans. You know, these, these big jugs, one was a gas jug, and one was a water jug. And I, I mixed them up and, and it went in, but there's a very humorous version of that story that I tell in my set and things like that.
Speaker 1 00:45:57 Get it out. How do you drain it? There was a flooding. The engine. Good job.
Speaker 4 00:46:04 Yeah, I did. I got into a lot of trouble. They had to, they had to bring a helicopter into, to get that truck out of there. Yeah. It's only like a couple million dollars. It's not that big.
Speaker 1 00:46:16 Oh goodness. Oh, wow. Um, and then kind of a last question. What are some of the accommodations, if any, whether that be tools, things in your house that you use to help you, and if you where'd, she go in jail work environment, what would be some of those accommodations that you ask? For
Speaker 4 00:46:34 Sure. So early on, even right now, my back is killing me. I'm still, I'm still recovering from the bag thing. So sorry if I keep fidgeting, um, uh, very early on I've. So how do I phrase this? I've had since being medically retired in 2007, I've still have about 10 to 15 surgeries since then. Uh, every time trying to make things a little bit easier for me, but very early on, as I was released, my hands were very limited dexterity and, and things. And so things like buttons, zippers class were impossible. I have, my wife helped me a lot with a lot of things. And I was, as I was learning to be more independent, I don't, I don't know the names of these things, but like physical therapy and occupational therapy people would, would give me stuff, but like to start out, I had, um, utensils that were like super thick.
Speaker 4 00:47:28 So instead of a thin, you know, it was like, it's almost like holding a comb, like a, like a hairbrush, but it was a fork, you know, and a spoon and a knife. And so that made it easier for me to hold tensiles to do buttons, things like buttons. I had this, I don't know, I did Voco for a while. So like for shoes, for awhile, I did the elastic laces so that I could, I could just slide my feet into any shoe or did a lot of sandals that a lot of slip-ons and things like that. But, you know, I was a sneaker head growing up, so I still liked having sneakers, but I couldn't tie laces. So I had had the elastic laces, he could just tie it up and slip it on. I was a good one for buttons. There was this device, that's like a little handle, this little metal hook.
Speaker 4 00:48:12 You would slide it through the hole, hook the button, and then pull it through so that you didn't have to, you know, use your, your finger dexterity to do that same thing for like a zipper and a little hook thing. Um, I've had, I've had back braces. I've had hand braces. So like for a long time, I couldn't bend my fingers very well. So I had these, like, there was almost like little Springs that you would put on each finger that is constantly like, I could squeeze down, but I couldn't open up. And so, like, I was squeezed down and it opens up. And so that's how I would work my hands. Um, yeah, lots of little things. I had a tens unit for all the nerve damage, uh, tends to Ms. Little electrodes you put on and they stimulate the nerves and it helps with, uh, I mean it helps with blood flow and muscles and nerve damage, nerve pain.
Speaker 4 00:49:02 So I used that for years and years and years, lots of medication, lots of medication. Um, I've had, I have a service dog. I have a service dog for when things, yeah. When I was first, which walking around somewhere, please look you probably playing with my son. Um, you know, when I, when I first, it was great when my wife was taking care of me, I didn't really need a lot, but when she started getting back to work and when I considered getting back into work, I was very worried about being on my own. And so there was a great organization that trained a service dog and gave me a service dog, and it was able to help me interact with the world. He could open up doors, closed doors, you know, alert things and, and kind of give me a bit of help with the anxiety and things like that. And so there's that, I mean, yeah. I, I mean, I've had slings and splints and I've run the gamut of just about every, every device you can think of short of like a Walker in a, in a wheelchair. Basically.
Speaker 1 00:50:00 I always like asking people because I learned so many new devices that I never knew about. And I'm like, wow, that's so cool. When on a previous podcast, uh, someone who, uh, has, who has strokes and he often sometimes will have issues, opening cans and stuff, and they'll knock them over a lot. And so he got this, uh, kind of like grippy surface material that I forget the name of it, but I got it on Amazon. And it's great. Cause it's like a no slip resistant and it makes things easier. It's just like those tiny little things. So yeah.
Speaker 4 00:50:39 Oh yeah. There's tons of them. There's tons of them. I mean, um, you know, yeah. I guess I, I spent so much time at Walter Reed and the army medical center that seeing so many different disabilities, everybody kind of needed something different. And so I've seen everything from prosthetic ears to, um, I have a buddy of mine. Yeah. Yeah. So basically if you've got burned bad enough, you know, this is all cartilage. And so I knew a guy who had gotten burned all the way around his face. And so this is ear is just, it's a hole because all this melted away. And so they have a little it's I hate, we joke because we're allowed to joke like this, but we call them like mr. Potato head, because you put the ear right in the hole and boom, he's got an ear. So yeah. Things like that,
Speaker 1 00:51:30 But it's functional. So he does so diesel don't stare, and it's really sad that you sometimes have to do what you got to do to look quote normal in society.
Speaker 4 00:51:39 Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a buddy of mine who took shrapnel in his, in his rear and leg. And what it causes is, I don't know the medical term, we call it a foot drop. Right. Cause they can't flex his foot. And so he has a device that basically is a solid metal platform that he puts his leg on and it straps to his leg. And again, if you wore long pants, wouldn't tell he's disabled in any way. Yeah. You know, you put
Speaker 1 00:52:09 Were those because when I was, before I was using a wheelchair, I was walking and I was tripping all the time and I wore those braces for about four and a half years. And great. I could say
Speaker 4 00:52:22 Exactly it works in and he has the real fancy, it's a carbon fiber and it has flexing and it does all this stuff. And, and, um, and it works for him, you know, he, at any point, cause, cause really the below the knee, his legs dead, like you see it. And you're like, yeah. Okay. I see, I see why you need the device. And um, and you know, I've always told him, I was like, you know, like if it was me, like I would just get it amputated and put, uh, put, you know, cause especially no, no offense to anyone with disabilities, but the guy with leg amputations, like they got it made, they got legs for everything. It is incredible. I know guys with bionic legs, they got swimming legs running legs. I know a guy who goes snowboarding and has it is specially built pistons in the night so that he can like dip and flex and do all those snowboarding moves just like anybody else. That's amazing. Yeah. And here I am. I'm like, if I lose my arms, I get the little robot clamps and that's it. Like, that's my choices, you know? So it's just, I'm always, I've always given crap to the guys with like, you know, missing legs. Cause I'm like, you guys got it made, man. I don't wanna hear no complaints. You guys get it good.
Speaker 1 00:53:37 If you were to go back, you would ask to be shot in the legs.
Speaker 4 00:53:41 Absolutely. I would. I would take, I would take a leg over a nerve damage and you know, limited range of motion, limited strength. And I can't do a PO for it. I was an airborne and like we prided ourselves on pull-ups. I can't do a single pull up. Not because I'm weak, but because I have no muscle or bone going over my shoulder. So I can literally can't couldn't lift five pounds. So, you know, I would take, use that a lot more than like I don't, I don't go running very often. That's how I stopped getting paid to do it. I don't run very often. Um, and so, uh, yeah, I would say I would take a lost leg. It sounds horrible. But like when you were in the hospital for months and months and months and years and years, like we had nothing to do, but just kind of like, and that's a military humor thing I think.
Speaker 4 00:54:30 And possibly people with disabilities, I've seen it where you just, you kind of start to get a dark sense of humor, very dry sense of humor. So we used to use the bust on each other. We used to say how like, Oh, I've got it way worse than you. And that's how we would laugh. Yeah. You know, exactly. Like what else were we going to do? We're sitting in the cafeteria and we would just play who who's got it worse, you know? And we would just complain and, and do it because that's, you know, that's what you do, but we did it out of love and, and you know, it's, it's not easy. It's, you know, I learned in the military man, you get put into extraordinary circumstances and you can laugh about it or you can cry about it. That's about it. So I always used to laugh about it.
Speaker 1 00:55:17 Well, that's wonderful. Thank you so much for your time. Anything else that you want to share with us? Where can we find you?
Speaker 4 00:55:25 Oh, uh, yeah. Um, I mean, I hate, I'm not the self promoting kind of guy, but I do have like a pop culture podcast slash live show slash talk show slash variety show. Like it's, it's a little bit of everything, but um, if you look, look up pop culture, warrior or WTF nation radio, it's a great show. It's a lot of fun, really. You know, we talk about movies and video games and comic books and toys. I have celebrity guests on an interview and it's a lot of fun. It's Tuesday nights, 8:00 PM Eastern. And yeah, that's, that's my new that kind of, because of COVID that kind of took away my, my comedy, this is my new outlet and it's been, it's been a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it. Yeah. Yeah. And as you can see my, my background, I'm a big, I'm a big nerd. I love Marvel stuff.
Speaker 1 00:56:21 Yeah. As I say, this is yeah.
Speaker 3 00:56:24 Tony Hawk, Tony stark, captain America's shield and Trinity hall. I got all the collectibles and it's fun and cool. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:56:35 Well thank you so much, CQ. I really appreciate your time and just being so transparent and open about your journey and who you are and thank you so much.
Speaker 3 00:56:44 Yeah, I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me on thank you for doing what you're doing because, uh, you know, this is information that people need to know where, where we're just normal people and uh, you know, it's um, I'm happy you're doing this. It's pretty cool.
Speaker 1 00:56:57 Thank you so much. Alright, take care.
Speaker 3 00:57:00 Thanks. Thank you friends for listening. Please rate and follow this podcast or text card at (470) 588-1215 with comments and suggestions tune in next week for another disability topic.