Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Life's a Beach
Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know one of our Veterans, Emerson Beach. What I didn’t know was the struggles he faces each day, combatting a severe disability, while keeping a smile on his face.
He was in the middle of his Navy career as a Nuclear Reactor Operator aboard Nuclear Submarines, in the 1970s, when a powerful blow to his head left him battling epilepsy for the rest of his life.
“At the time I was devastated – I was 10 years into my navy career and I had to start over,” said Beach. His first civilian job started and ended the day after his navy career ended as a Nuclear Operator at the Savannah River Site. They considered him a liability and let him go after he told them he had epilepsy.
Beach didn’t let this get him down. He used his G.I. Bill and registered at the Citadel for Electrical Engineering. After graduation from The Citadel, MeadWestvaco, the paper mill in North Charleston, hired him for their Information Technology department. He managed approximately 150 employees, each of whom he knew by name.
“They were my friends more than my employees. They helped me do my job when I could no longer perform my duties,” Beach said.
In 2009, Beach had surgery to remove the part of his brain blamed for his seizures. He said this left him, dead from the neck up. The surgery left him with permanent short-term memory loss, making him unemployable. He worked his last three years at MeadWestvaco with help from his employees until 2011 when he felt it was best to resign. They paid him a small percentage of his salary for another year, taking him until Christmas of 2012.
“The last check came on December 20 and that was when I made the first attempt to end my life. I felt terrible that I could no longer provide the life I had been providing to my wife and children and they would be better off receiving payment from my life insurance policy,” Beach admitted.
His road to recovering from depression began at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center after the first suicide attempt. He was suffering from severe depression and guilt.
“I spent a lot of time on the third and fifth floors,” explained Beach. “I had no self-worth and didn’t speak to anyone except people I had to like the Mental Health doctors.”
Beach didn’t feel comfortable sitting in the waiting room so he’d walk the halls of the fifth floor. The more he visited the Mental Health clinic, the more he started engaging with others.
Soon, Beach began volunteering! Since he had an IT background Fred Lesinski, Chief of Voluntary Service, assigned him to work with MyhealtheVet and recruit new members. He’s lost count of how many Veterans he has personally enrolled and takes his job very seriously. Beach also helps promote the Million Veteran Program.
“Since I started helping with MyhealtheVet, I feel like I have purpose in my life again,” exclaimed Beach.
“I feel like I have a reason to get up in the morning.” Beach is one of those people that come into your life and help you realize that you’re not alone during the storm. He encourages everyone that is feeling down or suffering other internal struggles to make an appointment with the Mental Health clinic.
The Mental Health staff is here to help with whatever storm you may be weathering. Take the path to sunshine with their support by talking with your provider today.