“You Saved My Life” … A Reason to Keep Reporting – by Aaron Glantz

by | Feb 18, 2009 | Stress Blog

Dear Friends,

After six years of war in Iraq, it is easy to get exhausted and depressed — to think that all your repeated exposures to the trauma of war are for nothing, that you are fucking yourself up for next to no money for no reason — Then something happens that suddenly gives all your work meaning, that gives you the strength to continue.

Such an experience happened tonight, when one of the veterans I’ve covered hugged me and told me I saved his life.

Two years ago, got a call from James Eggemeyer, a homeless Iraq war veteran on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Eggemeyer had back and shoulder injuries from his service in the Army as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but he had been waiting for months for his VA disability check. While he was waiting on the VA, James lost his home. He lost contact with his son. He had to start sleeping out of his truck. Because he was popping so many pain pills he crashed his truck…he was in the downward spiral that has become all too familiar to for our Iraq war veterans — one that all too often ends in suicide…

I covered Eggemeyer’s story, writing about it for Inter Press News Service and on Pacifica Radio…


(His story is also featured in my book)… Apparently, someone who read the story called Democratic US Senator Ben Nelson of Flordia, who was so irate about the disgrace of a homeless Iraq war veteran in Stuart, Florida that he personally called both the VSO who was helping Eggemeyer and the VA itself demanding his claim be settled. Shortly thereafter, James received a 100 percent disability rating from the VA and a retroactive benefits check giving him money back to the date when he first made his claim.

Today, I met James for the first time since my story ran. He is living on the outskirts of Atlanta now, and I am in town on my book tour doing a speaking gig at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.

James told me he is now stable, living in a small home he can afford with his modest disability check. More importantly, he told me, the check has caused his depression and the symptoms of his PTSD to ease because he now can sleep safely at night. He has been able to buy back the prized possessions he was forced to pawn. He has reconnected with his son, and while he is still not as whole he was before he went to Iraq he is stable, on the road to both physical and mental recovery.

When I met James before my speaking engagement at the Carter Center, he hugged me and told me my coverage literally saved his life. And he said the same to me in his truck on our way to grab coffee after my talk and again when we said goodbye to each other.

Now back in my hotel room, I have begun to cry — though I can’t exactly figure out why. I think these tears are partially tears of joy in recorgnition of the power of journalism to change and even save lives…. But behind these tears is another feeling, too that’s more complicated. Why does it take a news story and a US Senator to get a wounded veteran the support he needs to step back from homeless and suicide? I also know somewhere that while one life has been saved there are so many more…..

Until next time,


Aaron Glantz
Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism, The Carter Center
Hechinger Institute Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College

“The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans” (UC Press)
“How America Lost Iraq” (Tarcher/Penguin)

“Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations” (w/Iraq Veterans Against the War)

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