HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A Loris Army veteran says the war in Iraq changed his life forever, but despite the complications, he's honored to have served.
Michael Velazquez served in the Army from 1984 until 1996, and had tours in Panama, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf.
"Well, really, you can't really describe it because it happens all of a sudden." said former Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Velazquez about the injury that would change his life. "I was on the ground. We were hot refueling like I said - the helicopters, the Apaches and smaller ones - and gunfire just started coming in and my Humvee was going up and we hit an IED of course but I only got the shrapnel. I didn't get blown up or out somewhere, but they were there responding pretty quickly so I can give them credit."
Velazquez has had a handful of surgeries since his injury.
"I was still burning inside," he said. "My intestines was rotated, my colon came undone from my stomach, so I had to go in and get all that fixed and, like I said, the military handled it all.
Velazquez has since been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with suffering a stroke in 2010.
"We didn't think I was going to be able to do anything there too, and I was taking my daughter to school and I couldn't get nothing to my mouth," he said. "I was shaking and drove the car almost in a ditch and that changes you."
His family feels the pain, too.
"It's not as scary now, since our children are older, but we were living in Missouri at the time, I think, when he had his first episode with his stomach and all that and our kids would literally sleep in our floor because they wanted to make sure Daddy was going to wake up," said his wife, Velda Velazquez. "A lot of people I don't think realize what all he has gone through. They go like, 'Oh yeah, it's the military.' No, you know, I've been woke up in the middle of the night when he's having PTSD moments and he's fighting or having a flashback, and I've been there when they told him he couldn't work anymore and he felt like a failure because he couldn't take care of his family."
So many times, Velazquez's family takes care of him. His wife works full time, and his daughter watches him at home.
"I got a son in Missouri with my granddaughter, which is lovely, and then my daughter is here with us," he said. "So my daughter understands it more because she is with us. 'Dad, some things going on, you're not yourself,' and she'll grab my hand and say, 'Hey, let's take a walk."
Getting out of the house recently meant a trip to WMBF News to catch one of the newscasts. Velazquez said visits like this and the little things, despite his struggles, give him hope.
"Well one thing I learned is you can't dwell on the past; you got to keep going forward, and sometimes we take that leap forward," he said. "You're going to get some kind of flashback, but you've got to do it. You can't just let it happen to you. Go forward with your life and don't use it as an excuse, and I think people go a lot further if they didn't use it as an excuse." he said.
His wife agrees.
"It's true. It's not easy, but, you know, it's just what you make out of the life that you have laid before you, and it's not going to be a bed of roses every day," she said.
Still, Michael and Velda say they'd do it all again for their country and they thank others who have and will do the same.
"I loved that I served and I would do it again if was able to," he said. "It was wonderful."
The couple celebrate 25 years of marriage next July. They say they're grateful for the VA and the community support along the way.
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