BOISE - Local veteran George Nickel’s story is one that will be passed down for generations.
From the lowest of lows to a shining light for others who are struggling with the demons he was able to conquer.
But now his fight is focused on fellow vets who are struggling to transition into the private sector, as well as a fight for what he believes the military took away from him.
“It was July of 2009 I was in an armed standoff with the Boise Police Department,” said Nickel.
It was the moment that changed George’s life forever.
An alcohol induced hallucinogenic shootout with Boise Police at his Vista apartment complex over what he believed was the kidnapping of his dog.
Over a dozen rounds were fired....incredibly, no one was injured.
It resulted in an eight-month stay at the Ada County Jail in solitary confinement and five years of probation.
But how did he get there? What led to a situation that, seven years later, he can't believe to this day was a possibility?
That answer comes from a deployment two years earlier.
"On February 8th of 2007 I was in Iraq, my vehicle got hit by an explosive device. I lost some of my fellow service members at that time,” said Nickel.
He was shipped to Walter Reed Hospital for medical treatment for his brain, leg and ankle injuries and five months later he was home in Boise...looking to heal and redeploy after 16 years in the service.
But, his injuries prevented him from being able to run or jump from a vehicle. He knew his time in the service was coming to an end.
And he wasn’t handling it well.
“I was drinking heavily and on a downward spiral,” said Nickel.
A report done at a 24-hour medical office deemed him unfit for his job in the military and he was honorably discharged four years before he was due to receive full retirement benefits.
"If you aren't able to function in that capacity then you are of no use to them," said Nickel.
He appealed to get his full medical retirement -- but was denied.
"The system is overwhelming," said Nickel.
With ideas of fighting the system, Nickel decided to go to college and in 2010 enrolled at Boise State Universtiy where he would earn a master’s degree in social work.
He was hired by the Wyakin Warriors Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on helping post 9/11 vets get careers through education, and eventually back into civilian life.
George also works with the Idaho Veterans Network using the VA resources to help vets find a road to recovery. Through that network he also helped start up a community-based peer-support group that meets every week and is seeing it's numbers grow.
It is not affiliated with any government agency, so active duty members can attend without fear of repercussions.
"Because the fear was if they sought treatment in the community and it got back to their commander it would affect their career because they would be labeled with having issues with PTSD," said Nickel.
A new father of a baby boy, George who is now clean and sober, spends his time not only with vets and current service members, but also local law enforcement agencies speaking about critical incident calls.
And, about his medical retirement benefits, he is about to take the fight back up.
But now, with a motto he delivers to all military members who may be in his same situation.
"Don't sit back and be a victim to the system."
Here are links to some resources for veterans:
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