Special feature by John Nordberg, former agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and client of Meuser, Yackley & Rowland.
I’m not sure when PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) started to creep into my life, however, I know when I began to realize something was wrong. Looking back two, maybe three, years before I found myself sitting in the parking lot of a local restaurant, crying my eyes out, talking to an attorney. One day my wonderful partner and friend hung an advertisement for an attorney in my office. The ad was specifically regarding first responders and PTSD workers’ compensation claims. He pinned it on the corkboard and I never took it down, until the day I packed up my personal belongings and my supervisors came for my gun and badge. Did he know before I knew? There’s no doubt.
I saw the same advertisement many times in the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) magazine. My eyes would linger on the advertisement, but I never cut it out. I’ve always believed first responders can’t get through a career without having PTSD to some extent. When you can eat a pizza in the same room as another dead human being, that isn’t “normal”. When you stop gasping at unconscionable sights, as “normal people” do, it’s a sign that your brain losing its ability to protect itself.
After a conversation with my wife, where I mostly listened, I realized things were not going as well as it seemed in my head. In addition, a dear friend who is employed as a first responder in the metro area may have shared one of the most important moments with me prior to me reaching out for help. During a training session at Camp Ripley, we sat together in my work vehicle after having a few drinks. I could no longer contain my need to test the waters and see how someone outside of my inner circle would react to the news that I was struggling. We sat in the car for what seemed like an eternity, crying, together. In that moment, I finally got the courage to say that I was not “ok” out loud. It was an affirmation that it was “ok to not be ok”. My dear friend and Brother told me that night, he would keep “hounding” me until I started down the road to getting help. He vowed to drive up to Duluth and drag me to see a counselor. He also encouraged me to protect myself and contact a lawyer. That moment may have been the most important moment of the rest of my life.
Many things happened after that day, not all of which I can recall. PTSD has a funny way of affecting your memory. To honor my family and friends, on the drive home from Camp Ripley, I called Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, and spoke directly to Mr. Meuser. I remember how hard my heart was beating while the phone rang. I was numb, confused and scared to death as I pulled my car into the parking lot of a local restaurant. I didn’t start out our conversation crying, but I was by the time it ended. I sat in the parking lot crying and looking out the window, wondering what in the hell was going to happen next.
The day I submitted a First Report of Injury with the BCA, I quickly realized, I had nobody who understood this battle. I felt alone on an island. Sure, I could talk to my therapist about my thoughts and feelings, but she couldn’t answer the “what next” questions. To this day, my therapist and I still talk about how difficult the legal process was on my brain. You not only have to deal with crushing PTSD, but you are also constantly worrying about what is next.
Gaining the courage to make the phone call was difficult, but I’m thankful I stayed with it. If you are a first responder dealing with PTSD and feeling alone, know that there is help. My advice is to seek out an independent therapist and speak to an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation. Also, there are amazing organizations such as Heroes Helping Heroes and Soldier’s 6 who offer unique support services to first responders coping with mental health issues and PTSD. If you want to reach out to someone who understands what you’re going through, I’m here for you.
For Mr. Nordberg’s contact information, please contact Meuser, Yackley & Rowland.