February 23

Madison veteran still struggles eight years after return home

Jeffrey Hayden says a recent snowmobile accident has helped him to open up to seeking treatment in his struggle to adjust to civilian life.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MADISON — Heavy snow fell the night of Dec. 29 as Jeffrey Hayden drove his snowmobile home. He had had a few beers and because of the storm decided to ride along the road rather than on trails.

click image to enlarge

LONG, TOUGH TRANSITION: Jeff Hayden, 31, of Madison, reflects on his service in Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday at his kitchen table in Madison. Hayden served six years in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Resources for veterans and their families

National Veterans Foundation

Toll-free, 24-hour hot line: 888-777-4443

For more information or access to global video conferences, visit: www.nvf.org

Maine Veterans Association

Mon.-Fri.: 877-421-8263 or 207-623-8411

Veterans Association National Hotline

800-273-8255, press 1

“I was in a hurry to get home and thought it would be faster, although it turned out to not,” he said.

As he approached what appeared to be a snowbank, Hayden crashed the vehicle into what was actually a parked car. The impact threw him off the snowmobile and sent him flying 15 feet ahead of the car onto the icy road. He blacked out after he hit the car and remembers waking up confused and barely able to see.

He had three broken ribs and torn ligaments in one of his knees. A neighbor spotted his helmet lying in the road — it had cut his chin as it was flung off his head — and called 911.

When paramedics responded, they told Hayden that he was lucky to be alive — something that he says he took for granted before the accident. Police responded as well and charged Hayden with driving the snowmobile under the influence.

Hayden is a former Marine of Lima Company, 3rd platoon, 2nd squad who served 14 months of full-time active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and four years in the inactive reserve. He returned to Madison from active military duty in October 2006.

Hayden, 31, said he knew there were aspects of the war that bothered him and that he didn’t want to talk about, but he refused to get the counseling or help available at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus for about a year. Instead, he said, he turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“I didn’t want anyone to know my issues. I thought I could handle them, but then I proved to myself time after time that the way I was trying to handle them wasn’t the right thing to do and it affected not just me but my family, my friends, everybody,” Hayden said.

One in eight troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2008 have been referred to counseling for alcohol problems, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

It’s been nearly eight years since Hayden returned from active duty, and he says the pain — from seeing friends and fellow Marines get hurt or shot at — is still there. He hopes one day he can feel normal and is worried about how his decisions have affected his family, especially the OUI charge that arose from the recent snowmobile accident. The charge could result in a minimum 30-day jail sentence that also would disrupt the counseling he receives three times per week in Augusta, he said.

“I’m not trying to make this a scapegoat, but it’s factored into a lot of things I do. I wish things would be back to normal, but everywhere I go I feel out of place,” Hayden said.

Since his snowmobile accident, he has been attending counseling and substance abuse support groups three times a week.

There are no national or state data on the number of veterans in the criminal justice system, but there is a nationwide movement to establish more veterans’ courts, a program under which veterans convicted of less serious crimes can avoid lengthy prison sentences if they adhere to strict counseling and treatment requirements.

Maine has one veterans’ court, which was established in Augusta in 2012, and legislation is underway that would expand the veterans’ court system.

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