Wounded San Antonio-area veteran shares mental health story to help other veterans struggling during holidays

‘There is always someone out there who will listen to you’: veteran encourages peers to seek help

Wounded San Antonio veteran shares mental health story to help other veterans struggling during holidays

A wounded veteran’s physical injuries always affect their mental health, but veterans often only seek help for the physical wounds. Juan “JJ” Guerrero, a Marines and Army veteran in the San Antonio area, says he knows the holidays can be a hard time for injured or sick vets and wants his peers to know that getting help with mental issues is just as important as healing physical wounds.

Guerrero bravely served our country for 23 years. He spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and 19 years in the U.S. Army.

In 2006, Guerrero was injured by a roadside bomb during his second tour in Iraq.

“It was an EPF, an explosive floor penetrator, very deadly. I was very fortunate to not have died when it went off,” he said.

Both of Guerrero’s legs were severely damaged. He spent three years recovering before his right leg was amputated below the knee. Several more years went by, and skin cancer in his left heel caused him to have to amputate that leg as well.

“It always affects you mentally because it’s not an easy thing to undergo,” he said. “For me, it’s always in the background. I cannot forget what I went through simply because wearing prosthetics is a reminder, a daily reminder, of what happened.”

Guerrero admits he went through some dark times, even contemplating whether he wanted to be alive.

“To be honest, I was at that place once, or twice. But I think it’s because I have someone who helped me,” he said.

Guerrero said his life changed when he met his wife, Shannon, who eventually suggested counseling.

“I was bottling everything up, and it was affecting our relationship,” he admitted.

That’s when Guerrero utilized the Semper Fi & America’s Fund nonprofit, which provides long-term wellness programs for wounded veterans.

“Getting help, even if it hurts your pride, your ego -- you just have to do those things,” Guerrero said.

He even got some help adapting to his home after his amputations.

“They really do care about the people they’re helping. They do a great job. They do Christmas parties for veterans. They’re always sending cards or notes on holidays, and it makes you feel like you’re part of a family, and it is,” he said.

Guerrero said the holidays could worsen mental health issues for many military members.

“It’s a time when everyone comes together, so if you’re alone, who comes to visit you? Where do you go? It makes it more difficult,” he explained.

That’s why he wants veterans and active service members to know they’re never truly alone.

“Even if you are alone, there is always someone out there who will listen to you and extend a helping hand,” he said.

Asking for help enabled Guerrero to get his life back.

“It’s that positivity. I’m able to run when I need to when I’m chasing my children,” Guerrero said.

With four boys, he knows his self-healing needs to be a priority, and he hopes he can inspire others to ask for help this holiday season to find that same positivity.

Guerrero said he has a long list of military buddies he calls to check in with every holiday season, making sure they know they matter. He encourages others to do the same. He said one text or call could make a huge difference.

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About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.