He doesn’t let pain stop him from fighting for his fellow veterans.
The Purple Heart is just one of the medals Anthony Ameen was awarded. Serving from 2002 to 2010 as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman, he also received the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Valor Distinction and two Good Conduct Medals. For the past seven years, he has lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as chronic pain from injuries he sustained overseas. But today his life is defined not by pain but by purpose: He’s a crusader for those wounded in war.
I am a fighter and I am a veteran,” he says. “For the rest of my life, I will continue to fight—fight the pain, fight for veterans’ rights, fight to be happy.
The attack that changed his life
As part of the 2nd Battalion/7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, Anthony was stationed in Afghanistan in July 2008. The threat of attack was constant. On the front lines, he and his fellow Marines faced daily firefights with the Taliban.
On July 21, 2008, Anthony and his unit were setting up a Taliban ambush. The Taliban launched a counterattack; Anthony heard loud blasts, mortar and gunfire. As the Corpsman, Anthony was responsible for providing on-scene emergency medical treatment. When radioed by his platoon Sergeant to help an injured Marine, Anthony acted fast.
Anthony could see the extent of his comrade’s injuries from 20 yards away, and ran toward him, thinking only of saving his life. Leaving the safety of his four-man element formation, Anthony stepped on an improvised explosive device. His left foot was almost detached, his right leg shattered between the knee and ankle, and his left wrist and hand sustained multiple severe injuries.
With his teammates working fast to provide aid, Anthony and the wounded Marine were transported to safety—but unfortunately it was too late for the Marine.
A painful journey
Anthony’s injuries required immediate attention. He woke from the first of his 32 surgeries to see his left leg wrapped in gauze and bandages. As he tried to come to grips with the fact that his foot was amputated above the ankle, he spotted one of his closest Marine friends standing at his bedside. To see a familiar face at the worst moment in his life was powerful—he was not alone.
Anthony spent many days enduring intense pain and more procedures on his journey home to the U.S. It wasn’t until his arrival at an Air Force hospital in Virginia that he first experienced pain relief. Finally, he made it to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and was reunited with his parents and siblings. His journey had been so tumultuous that he still had battlefield dirt in his ears, and on his face and neck.
For the next eight months, Brooke was his home. He underwent hours of physical therapy each day and 18 surgeries, including four amputation revisions to his left leg, reconstructive left-hand surgery, and procedures to salvage his right leg. He contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which complicated his care.
And with every new surgery came more medication. Soon, Anthony was taking a cocktail of methadone, morphine, pregabalin, IV Dilaudid, Percocet, Vicodin, gabapentin and fentanyl.
Five months into his recovery, Anthony attended a memorial for fallen friends. He still wasn’t able to walk, but he was determined to stand and salute the 19 Marines and one Sailor who lost their lives during his unit’s deployment. With his friends’ help, he stood and saluted each of the fallen.
Learning to walk again was a challenge. Anthony had to adjust to a prosthesis on his left leg and wear a special brace on his right leg. The brace caused dull, unrelenting bone pain; each day he had to adjust the struts to bring his broken bones back together.
While the brace helped Anthony regain the ability to walk, the pain it brought was a harsh motivator: he was walking without it after eight months instead of the 18 predicted by his healthcare team. Anthony says that every day when he puts on his prosthesis he remembers the Marine he tried to save.
The full effects of PTSD
The Navy also tried to treat his emotional wounds, but Anthony resisted. Like many returning veterans, he lost the ability to trust. At first he found it easier to numb himself with prescription pain relievers and alcohol, as many wounded combat veterans do.
It wasn’t until he returned home to Arizona that Anthony truly began to cope with PTSD, an anxiety disorder that manifests after extreme emotional trauma. For Anthony, PTSD showed itself in survivor’s guilt, nightmares, combat-induced insomnia, emotional numbing, avoidance and flashbacks. Anything that reminds Anthony of chaos—be it disorganization, messes or loud noises—can trigger PTSD symptoms.
Anthony says the emotional pain of PTSD is just as detrimental as physical pain. Both have left him crippled.
But with the help of family and friends, as well as the support of other combat veterans, Anthony has learned to cope with the traumas of war. Today he is doing much better.
An unexpected battle
Anthony never expected a new fight once he was home—especially not with the government. He was denied Social Security benefits and Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance; his appeals went nowhere. Finally, former Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell helped Anthony win a congressional hearing to secure the healthcare, financial and legal benefits he was owed—after two years of being denied.
When Anthony learned that many other wounded servicemen and women were feeling they’d fallen through the bureaucratic cracks, he saw injustice and vowed to fight it. To aid others in battling the Veterans Administration for the rights and benefits of those wounded in combat, Anthony founded the nonprofit organization Wings for Warriors.
Wings for Warriors supports combat-wounded service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization provides tools, insight and resources—such as guidance, counseling, travel assistance and public awareness events—for veterans as they recover. Since March 2011, Wings for Warriors has helped 1,200 wounded veterans secure the benefits they need and deserve.
Anthony is proud of his work. “I get paid in high fives and hugs, and that is all I need,” he says. “Hearing the words ‘You saved my life’ reminds me why Wings for Warriors is here. I just feel lucky that I have been able to offer my fellow wounded veterans some help, support and hope.” He urges all veterans to thoroughly research their benefits—and fight for them.
Anthony believes that with education, the public would stand up more for veterans’ rights. But without understanding the realties of combat, subsequent injuries and the recovery process for wounded veterans, the public is not armed with what they need to be advocates.
Today, Anthony focuses on his family, his nonprofit organization and his career. By finding new meaning and purpose in life, Anthony has pulled himself out of the darkness that plagued him for many years. He has also come to accept pain as a daily part of his life and no longer relies on medications.
His journey to acceptance and recovery continues; his spirit is strong. A brave combat hero, a caring husband and a devoted father, he strives to make a difference for others. Despite his pain and all his experiences, Anthony stays positive.