Unplanned loss, unexpected redemption

veteran gains

A veteran story of loss and a successful recovery after support from a non-profit organization.

When Lafe Cotton left Michigan to join the Marine Corps in 2008, as a family they knew he would lose more than half of his earnings as a steel worker. Still, at 23 years old, he felt that the experience he would accumulate as a combat engineer would provide him the knowledge needed to achieve his professional goal of becoming a general contractor when he got out. What he didn’t know was what else he’d lose along the way. Or how long and difficult the journey ahead would be in attempting to recover it all.

Meritoriously promoted twice in his first 15 months of service, Cotton seemed pointed toward a promising enlistment. But six weeks into his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, Cotton’s Camp Lejeune-based battalion took part in the famed Battle of Marjah.

“My first deployment, we did 150 missions in seven months,” said Cotton. “There happened to be a 120-pound IED (improvised explosive device) about 100 yards from an Afghan National Army post. That’s where we got smoked.”

The blast left Cotton with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which was immediately diagnosed by medical personnel in-country. After two weeks, his route clearance patrol team got hit by another IED just before their first mission back. It wasn’t the last.

“I got blown up three times—knocked completely unconscious,” Cotton explained. “The first one is what got me, though.”

Problems at home

“The big one,” as Afghanistan War veteran calls it, severely affected his short-term memory and brought on a sensitivity to light that necessitates wearing sunglasses “pretty much everywhere.” He also began having severe migraines and uncontrollable vomiting that sometimes persists for days. Add in post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing the deaths of friends and children overseas, and Cotton’s injuries began taking a toll when he returned home. To cope, he turned to the bottle—drinking a fifth of liquor and a case of beer each night. Additionally, he was taking double the amount of his prescribed anti-anxiety medication. (continue reading)

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