By Kellie Speed
When U.S. Marine veteran James “Shrapnel” Crosby was just 19 years old, he was hit in the back with shrapnel from a rocket attack at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
As a result, the combat warrior became one of the nation’s most severely wounded soldiers at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Since then, the Purple Heart recipient has made it his personal mission to help veterans returning to Massachusetts receive the comprehensive services they need. He was instrumental in passing the Crosby-Puller Combat Wounds Compensation Act created, “to require that a member of the uniformed services who is wounded or otherwise injured while serving in a combat zone continue to be paid monthly military pay and allowances, while the member recovers from the wound or injury, at least equal to the monthly military pay and allowances the member received immediately before receiving the wound or injury, to continue the combat zone tax exclusion for the member during the recovery period, and for other purposes.”
Crosby says his goal is simple: “I want to get the truth out about what is happening in the veteran’s community and also in communities in general. I hate differentiating between the two because I don’t believe that we’re two separate communities. I believe that we are just the warriors that signed up to go, but we are all part of the same community. When people say the veteran’s community and then everyone else, it hurts everybody.”
Crosby continued, “Reintegration back into the community as a whole is really important, and not isolating yourself. Unfortunately, veterans can start to become self-loathing because you are not operating at the level that you know you can, so you start to isolate and a lot of times people can’t make it out of that. And that’s where you’ve got guys and girls who commit suicide.”
As a result, the Massachusetts native founded a suicide prevention program known as SAVE (Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment) where, through case management, peer outreach workers visit with veterans, identify their issues and provide them with access to the resources needed to help them get back on track. The SAVE team acts on behalf of the veterans as a liaison between federal and state agencies to proactively assist in transitioning them into civilian life.
“If you start to eliminate problems one by one at a time or maybe three at a time, you start picking people’s problems away, so they might not think that their only option to gain control of their life when they’ve lost control of everything is suicide,” Crosby said. “That’s the mission behind SAVE.”
Last year, Crosby participated in an adaptive training program to help with his paralysis, but he believes his most life altering experience came with the assistance of the Warrior Angels Foundation, a non-profit that provides a personalized treatment protocol that pinpoints and treats the underlying condition for service members and veterans who have sustained a TBI while in the line of duty.
“I was having all these hormone imbalances in my brain,” he said. “They analyze what is out of balance and begin treatment. This needs to be the way that we’re treating traumatic brain injuries now because it’s not only saving people’s lives, but it’s enriching their lives. For me, I couldn’t stay awake because I couldn’t sleep (if that makes any sense) and it was just really bad, but this changed my life. I could think clearer and started getting some of my confidence back. My body started returning to its normal shape. This is what turned my life around. I’ve been on this path of self-betterment lately and just really concentrating on myself and while doing that, everything seems to be falling into place.”