With a Little Help, a Veteran’s Life Transformed

Man in uniform stands in a building service entry area

Formerly homeless Veteran Robbie Myers recently won first place on Chopped, a reality-based cooking television series that pits four chefs against each other competing for a chance to win $10,000. The show airs on Food Network.


Photo compliments of the Warrior Transition Command Communications Division

Picture this:  one minute you’re living in a tent, with no home to call your own.  The next, you find yourself starring in a popular nationally-televised cooking show.

This astonishing change in fortune actually happened to Robbie Myers, an Army Veteran who medically retired after serving two brutal tours in Afghanistan.

But retirement was not kind to Myers, at least not at first.  Soon after returning to the United States and entering the civilian world, his own world began to crumble fast.

Just Ask

“He just walked in the door and asked for help,” said Lauren Love, the Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn program manager at the Syracuse VA Medical Center. “The Army had discharged him directly from Germany, where he and his family had been stationed, so he wasn’t even in the VA system. So we got him into the system.”

Love said Myers had somehow ‘fallen through the cracks’ while transitioning from the Army to civilian life.

“It’s rare, but it happens,” she said. “They’d been sent home from Germany, but they had no real home to return to. They were a family in crisis.”

“It was real rough for me because the Army was literally all I knew and I didn’t have it anymore,” Myers said. “On top of that, I had this new obligation to try and find a way to support my family and I had no way of doing it.  I was kind of lost. So I started the process of reaching out to the VA.”

 Robbie’s a fighter; he doesn’t give up. His wife is a fighter, too. They were both determined to keep fighting to get their life back on track. 
— Gregory Brown, Case Manager, Syracuse VA

Behind the Scenes

“When he came to us, he had no income to speak of,” Love continued. “So we jumped on that right away. Our team did a lot of behind-the scenes work to get some income flowing to him and his family. We found them income from a number of sources: the Veterans Benefits Administration, Social Security Disability, various non-profit agencies. A number of local non-profits played big roles in this whole process.”

 “We also referred them to our Caregiver Support Program,” she added.  “His wife, Jamie, was trying to take care of Robbie along with their five kids.  She was also eight months pregnant. That’s a lot to handle.  So introducing the Caregiver Program into their lives was essential to their well-being as a family unit.”
At this point another member of the team, Cheryl Cox, entered the picture.  She’s the caregiver support coordinator at the Syracuse VA.

Contestents stand at in a television studio kitchen set

Robbie Myers (standing next to female Navy Vet) and his three rivals prepare to discover what their next culinary challenge will be on the set of Chopped.


Photo courtesy of the Food Network

Staying Strong

“Jamie Myers has a husband with PTSD to take care of and six kids,” Cox said. “That’s a lot to deal with. She’s a very calm, together, organized person, but she had a lot of pressure on her–a lot of strain. My job was to make her life a bit easier, take some of the pressure off.  My job was to help her be strong so she could handle what life was throwing at her.”
“We were able to secure a caregiver stipend for her, which helped provide additional financial support for her,” Cox explained. “We connected her with mental health counseling. She also receives regular home visits from a nurse and a psychologist who talks with her, assesses how things are going with the family and helps connect her with any other community services the family might need.”

Holding it Together

“She’s the glue of that family,” Cox added. “She’s behind the scenes holding everything together which in turn allows Robbie to focus on his recovery as well as his career goals.”

Gregory Brown, a case manager at the Syracuse VA, remembers the day Myers first showed up at the medical center.

“We did an assessment on him to determine what his needs were,” Brown explained. “Our team assessed him for PTSD, depression–a lot of different things.”

“We determined that he had some pretty significant posttraumatic stress issues, so we set up an appointment for him with a combat stress specialist. Then we referred him to our polytrauma unit, because he had issues related to traumatic brain injury.” 

“Robbie also had some issues related to homelessness,” Brown said. “His wife and children were living at her parent’s house.  He was living in a tent, in the backyard. So our homeless team helped them move into a home of their own.” 

A Warrior Wounded

“And while all this was happening,” Brown said, “we also referred him to the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program Office located at the Syracuse VA Medical Center. That was an important step.” 

At this juncture, Jeffrey Johnson entered the picture.  Johnson, who works for the U.S. Army’s Wounded Warrior Program (also known as AW2) became Myers’ AW2 advocate.

“It was my job to guide Robbie and his family throughout their recovery and transition process,” said Johnson, who spent 32 years in the military. “I assisted them with getting Army financial benefits and short-term financial support from several non-profit agencies in key areas.”

“Our goal,” he added, “was to get him to a state of self-sufficiency and he’s there now.  He’s shown a lot of resilience. Now he’s at the point where he’s trying to get into the culinary business.  He was a cook, serving in a combat theater and now he wants to be a chef somewhere or start his own restaurant.” 

“My plans for the future are to open a gourmet food truck and catering business in northern New York,” Myers said.

And, having won a popular Food Network cooking competition called ‘Chopped,’ he certainly has the culinary creds to make that happen.

“A friend sent me a link to apply (for the competition),” Myers explained.  “I thought, ‘Why not apply?’ So I did and I was selected.”

A Champion in the Making

Myers out-cooked three other Veterans–one from the Navy and two from the Army–to bring home the $10,000 cash prize.

“I’ve also been given a chance to compete in the ‘Ultimate Chopped Champion Competition,” he announced proudly.  “It’s a pretty cool competition.”

But chances are none of this might have happened had Myers not walked into the Syracuse VA that fateful day and asked for a little help.

“They opened up these doors for us, which kept us going, helped us survive,” he said. “If this hadn’t happened, I don’t like to think about where we’d be at right now. They really saved us.”

His wife Jamie agreed.

“They didn’t just help us survive,” she said.  “With all the continuous support, we’re thriving now.  We’ve been incredibly blessed.”

To learn more about how VA is helping Veterans with PTSD, visit www.ptsd.va.gov.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2014/October/With-A-Little-Help-A-Veterans-Life-Transformed.asp


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