Blackduck National Guardsman faces problems after coming home from Iraq
When Doug Schmit left for Iraq to do carpentry, he had no idea that coming home would be the struggle that it was. He came home only to battle with the Veteran's Administration, get divorced and be out of work for several months due to a back injury he received in Iraq.
Schmit graduated from Blackduck High School in 1990 and attended basic training for the National Guard prior to receiving his high school diploma. He went on to work in the construction and carpentry field.
In 2007 the military was actively searching for construction workers. Schmit jumped on board. He enlisted Aug. 8, 2007 and left just a little over a month later on Sept. 22.
"My company was already over there," Schmit said. "After enlisting, I pretty much ran the whole way."
Because the process of enlisting and leaving was only over a duration of six weeks, Schmit recalled that his colonel couldn't believe anyone could undergo the process in such a short time. The patches for his uniform hadn't even arrived yet.
"My platoon's main mission was to do repair work," Schmit said of the major reason to head overseas.
During his time in Iraq, Schmit and the rest of his platoon filled in holes that roadside bombs that had created. His crew would go out in the middle of the night and fill the holes with concrete. They tried help the locals avoid getting injured. They also built buildings some of which they got in trouble for.
"We got in trouble for constructing what they call a fancy building," Schmit said of the very small buildings they would build for 20 or 30 soldiers to sleep in. "There was nothing fancy about them."
While in Iraq, his company was attacked a few times, though he wasn't present for any of them.
"Anywhere you go over there, there are concrete walls, mile after mile," Schmit said as he explained the precautions taken to keep snipers or other dangers away from the soliders.
Schmit came home in December 2007 for Christmas only to be served with divorce papers.
"She had been in the military and I thought that she would understand," Schmit said. "I guess I was wrong!"
This was only the beginning of the unfortunate luck Schmit encountered after coming home.
Early in February of 2008, Schmit was lifting heavy cable while wearing about 100 pounds of body armor, ammunition and weaponry, when he injured his back.
"We had this truck come into camp with a bunch of cables on it," he said. "And the driver just dumped them all on the ground. It was up to us to untangle them all and that's how I hurt my back."
Schmit went on to explain, "I didn't hurt or feel bad until the next day. I guess my lower back just went out. I couldn't even move. I had to be helped out of my cot."
According to Schmit, more and more people are having back issues while serving in the military. There are not many guidelines on how to keep yourself safe from this kind of injury.
"There is all this hard labor we are expected to do and we aren't told how we can do it without harming our bodies," explained Schmit.
Schmit came home in July 2008 only to deal with more problems than he could have ever imagined waiting for him.
"Dealing with the VA turned into a full time job in itself," Schmit said of his struggle in getting medical help for his back injury. The injury put Schmit out of work once he came home and the VA denies he was ever over in Iraq.
"Apparently, they lost my paperwork," Schmit explained. "This is hard because I haven't worked since October of 2008."
Schmit went in for VA -- approved back surgery March 6. He was released from the hospital only two days later.
According to Schmit, one of the most frustrating aspects following his surgery was the lack of information on what he could or couldn't to do from surgeons and nurses.
"They just told me I couldn't work for two months and to go to the VA," said Schmit. "Well, the VA approved my surgery, but they didn't approve any pain medication. I ended up buying my own."
Despite his current struggle, Schmit says that he doesn't regret his time spent in Iraq.
"I'm glad I went," he said. "I am adjusting to life, but it isn't too bad for me, even though I still have a lot of thoughts about my experience going through my head."
As for work, Schmit hopes that he can return to doing construction as soon as possible.
"The doctors have said I may be able to go back to work in a few weeks, but who knows?" Schmit said.
Schmit's life currently consists of dealing with the VA and keeping himself busy.
"I'm not one to get too bent out of shape about things," he said. "Dealing with the VA though, that's a different story."