October 28, 2004 – Ramadi, Iraq – it was supposed to be Specialist Oscar Olguin’s day to relax, de-stress, and recharge. But fate wouldn’t have it.
“One of the guys got sick, and he couldn’t go out,” explains Oscar. “We were short on people, so they pulled me out and got me to go.”
Four hours later, in the brutal 90-plus degree heat, a white van pulled out of a mosque. The van sped across the road and accelerated toward the Humvee where Oscar was stationed.
In the blink of an eye, the van detonated.
“As soon as it happened I tried to stand up, and I couldn’t. My right leg was gone. It looked as if I had taken off my boot with my leg still in it. There it was on the ground along with my torn pants.”
Oscar also suffered shrapnel wounds to his right arm, left leg, and lower back. He lost consciousness, but he knows he was flown to Baghdad for surgery. He was later transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Landstuhl’s medical team kept Oscar stable for a week while he awaited a flight to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, DC.
“The medical team at Landstuhl does their job with great kindness, and I have the utmost appreciation for what they did for me.”
Oscar’s rehab at WRAMC went surprisingly well. But as Oscar put it, he felt like he was “being stabbed in the stomach.” Exploratory surgery revealed the healing scar had attached itself to muscle.
“So I had to take it slower,” explains Oscar. “I’d try to stand up straight and after a while I was able to walk and my prosthetic did pretty well. I had a good physical therapist. I was even able to run again – jogging five kilometers around Central Park.”
Oscar’s rehab at WRAMC lasted a year and a half. After his release, he attended Mt. San Antonio Community College, where his counselor suggested he apply for a job at Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
“They approved my application, and I started working for them in January 2009. As a service officer, I assist veterans with initial filing of claims. We represent them at hearings and at the Board of Veterans appeals. I write appellate briefs and assist family members if they need to apply for vet benefits or burial benefits.”
Later in 2009, the Department of Veteran Affairs diagnosed Oscar with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“I manage it the best I can. If I have any triggers, get more moody or experience other issues, I try to deal with them and move forward. I try not to have that interfere with my life.”
Oscar says he plans to continue helping as many disabled veterans as he can.
“I want to be always serving. I try to make that my life goal – 24/7. Every day I see veterans who inspire me. I do everything in my power to make a positive impact for them. So many warriors didn’t have the chance to come back. I believe I should do something for those who need help because I am thankful to be alive.”