Semper Fi: Hope and Recovery for a San Antonio Veteran
Last Updated: 31 Jan 2024
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A Marine Veteran finds his way back to health and happiness
Javier “Javi” Sandoval never goes anywhere without donning his red-and-black Marine Corps hat.
“I’m proud to have served as a Marine,” he says. “The hat is a symbol of what I did and my service to the Corps.”
Sandoval’s hat is more than a symbol of his service, though. He says it also connects him to other Marines.
Now retired, Sandoval joined the Marine Corps in 1984, training as a Dynamic Component Mechanic and as a Crew Chief gunner off Hueys and Cobras in Somalia. He served in the military for 10 years, followed by 23 years working as a San Antonio-based police officer for the North East Independent School District.
Whether at the grocery store or the gas station, the cap often inspires a hearty “Semper Fi!” or “Oorah!” from fellow servicemembers, a greeting that reminds Sandoval he’s part of a proud band of brothers.
But he didn’t always feel that way.
After retiring from the military, and despite his successful law enforcement career, Sandoval was plagued by severe post-traumatic stress from his time in Somalia, accompanied by paralyzing anxiety, nightmares, and sleepless weeks and months.
He felt alone, disconnected.
The only way he knew to dull the sharp edge of those tormenting memories was to self-medicate with alcohol, a coping method that eventually got out of hand, he says. Sandoval could no longer maintain a job, nor keep his house.
He soon found himself homeless, living in his van.
“My problem was I thought I could fix myself,” he recalls. “I was a proud sergeant in the Marine Corps. I was a proud police officer. And I thought, ‘I can take care of myself. I can fix this.’ Well, no, I couldn’t. The hardest part was to admit that.”
Sandoval believes that acknowledging the need for help was his turning point, the first step to recovery and reclaiming his life.
But he credits his brother with that critical next step – access to real support and tangible resources.
His brother referred him to Endeavors. As the largest provider of support services for Veterans and their families, Endeavors was able to offer Sandoval a path forward.
His Endeavors case manager enrolled Sandoval in Endeavors’ Veteran Support Services program, which got him off the street and into short-term housing; connected him with mental health counseling, medical assistance, and substance abuse services; and eventually got him set up with a permanent home.
Sandoval distinctly remembers the day after he moved into his new apartment.
“All I had was a blanket and a pillow,” he recalls. “Then I got a knock on the door. All this furniture arrived: a sofa, chairs. And it’s all brand-new stuff, the tags were still on! They said Ashley Furniture. I was like, “Wow. Why are they giving this to me?’”
Sandoval was moved. Inspired. And motivated to continue the momentum.
He found employment in custodial services at Endeavors, moving up the ranks to custodial lead, and finally to his current role as care coordinator where – in true Marine fashion – he stands on the front lines at Endeavors, meeting Veterans when they first step through the doors.
“There have been times where we’ve had veterans come in crisis and I’ve been able to take them aside and talk with them. Because I’ve had the experience, I’m able to talk to them until we can get a clinician to take over,” Sandoval says. “I got help from Endeavors and now I want to give it back as many times as I can. It makes me feel good.”
Today, Sandoval is going on six years sober. He reconnected with his family after years of estrangement. He enjoys his home, a new truck, and perhaps most profound, he finds fulfillment encouraging other Veterans to do the thing it took him years to do – ask for help.
“The strength is not trying to do it yourself,” Sandoval says, “the strength is to ask for the help. That’s where real strength comes from. And inside of you, you have that strength.”
Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit endeavors.org.