After own recovery, veteran launches Fix’d to help others cope
By ALMENDRA CARPIZO | The Record, Stockton, Calif. | Published: March 15, 2017
STOCKTON, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Jaime Medina is a powerful force.
The rapid-fire talker moves with a sense of urgency and purpose; as if he still lives in the days when he was deployed in the Middle East. It's an intensity that fueled his alcohol binges years back and now powers his advocacy and outreach efforts.
Medina, a retired Air Force technical sergeant, 11 months ago founded Fix'd, a Tracy-based nonprofit organization that assists veterans by offering life coaches and peer support specialists. He aims to "bridge the gap between need and care" in a time when there is an abundance of organizations but too little help.
The 38-year-old, who was diagnosed with chronic severe post traumatic stress disorder and three traumatic brain injuries, was at the end of his military career working as a federal police officer when he fell into a four-year spiral of substance abuse.
He was in denial.
He was drinking to cope.
He began to self-destruct.
"There was lots of self-medicating, lots of depression ... PTSD to the Nth degree," he said. "My whole personal life, everything started crumbling, falling apart; relationships, friendships, my own mother didn't want anything to do with me ... I felt like a monster."
After an intervention by his colleagues and running out of options, Medina checked into a Veterans Affairs emergency room. He spent seven months at an in-patient program in Palo Alto followed by two years of intensive behavioral conditioning. A man who never asked for help and was offended when someone suggested something was wrong with him re-emerged from treatment with a new mission of service.
"I refocused my intensity to doing good," he said. This newfound ferocity is "never going away, but now it's positive."
He still remembers the day his mother looked at him and said, "Who are you?" — she would use the same impassioned expression months later during her first visit to see Medina in treatment and, when his mother grabbed him, this time, said, "You're finally home."
Fix'd, which he named after hearing veterans call themselves damaged goods, is Medina's answer to the gaps in care, some of which he experienced firsthand. The organization offers a 10-week program with a certified life coach or peer support counselor. Local clinicians volunteer their time to help Fix'd clients, who are not required to be veterans. And if a person can't get their needs met at Fix'd, Medina will offer referrals.
"There's a lot of organizations (helping), but I believe in my heart that I can do better," he said.
In December, 31-year-old Keith Cain reluctantly called a number he came across. The retired Navy corpsman was running out of hope and needed help. Cain's alcoholism and PTSD had cost him his family, including his newborn daughter and live-in girlfriend, and he was struggling at work. What started as drinking a few beers to avoid nightmares had escalated into drinking entire bottles of hard liquor to fall asleep.
"I was left to myself and my darkness," he said. "I was absolutely miserable ... the only option was to reach out."
The number he called belongs to Medina.
Cain, who retired medically after suffering multiple traumatic brain injuries, recalls feeling skeptical and guarded during the phone call. He had no expectations it would work. But soon the men started talking veteran to veteran. And it wasn't what was said when they spoke, but what Cain didn't have to say.
"He made me feel like it's bad but everything is going to be all right," he said.
"I can say wholeheartedly that (Medina) saved my life," he added. "I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't made that call."
Medina's impact on Cain was so significant; he relocated from Orange County to Palo Alto two months ago. He said his goal now is to follow Medina's path and help others, which fits in with the goal of Fix'd — to have veterans transition from its program into employment and mentoring.
One notable difference between Medina and other organizations is his inability to slow down. Once he identifies an issue, he attacks it.
Last month, Medina received an anonymous email about a Vietnam War veteran in Tracy who was being released from the hospital after having his legs amputated. The man was returning to his home at the Oasis Trailer Park.
But the trailer's roof had caved in, and there were leaks, electrical damage, animal feces and the bathroom wasn't wheelchair-accessible.
"I didn't know how (the repairs were) going to get done," Medina said. "I just knew it needed to get done."
Within days, Medina, a graduate of Merrill F. West High School, had mobilized Tracy businesses to get the job completed, and Elisa Infante of Elisa's Cleaning Services and Paul Gladden of Gladden Equipment Erectors donated their services.
On Thursday afternoon, as Greg Jantz met with Medina, the 65-year-old said he still has a box full of pamphlets he collected from organizations that were supposed to help him with his trailer. None did.
Jantz said before Medina, he ran into challenges. He was referred to other organizations time and time again, so when he was told Medina was going to speak with him he wasn't expecting any follow through.
Instead, Medina was a "bulldog," and before Jantz had a say in the matter, the work was scheduled.
"He just came in like a cyclone," Jantz said, adding that Medina's eagerness to help was refreshing.
Medina did ask Jantz for one payment in return: to become a mentor to other veterans. Jantz said he's happy to oblige.
"He's changed my life, and I can't say that about anybody," Jantz added.
Medina is steadfast about his new mission to not leave veterans behind because he said even though many of them have returned, they're still not home.
Said Medina: "I didn't fail overseas; I'm not going to fail here."
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