“I used to be the last person someone could rely on,” said Andrew Crosby quietly as he reflected on his difficult path to Concordia University Wisconsin. “It’s humbling that I can be counted on again.”
Andrew Crosby is a sophomore studying business management at Concordia University Wisconsin’s (CUW) Adult Learning Center in Madison, Wis. He is also a veteran of the United States Army, having served a combat deployment in Iraq as a Corporal. While he is proud to have served in the military, it was during his transition from soldier to student that he saw the most conflict.
Crosby enlisted in the Army in 2005 just a few months after proposing to his high school sweetheart, Jaci. Within a year he was deployed to Iraq and served in multiple combat missions.
While in Iraq, he received the devastating news that Jaci was killed by a drunk driver in his hometown of Rockford, IL. Crosby was desperate to come home, however due to Army’s leave policy, he could not be granted temporary leave to grieve with her family because they were not yet married.
Between the stress of combat, the loneliness of distance, and the consumption of grief, Cosby could no longer cope and made the decision to give up. He attempted suicide by overdosing on drugs. Upon his recovery, the Army found him to be unfit to continue his military service. According to Crosby, in 2009 “they kicked me out.”
Following his discharge, Crosby’s life continued on a downward spiral as he turned deeper to drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. He was addicted, depressed, exhausted, and very soon, homeless. He was also having terrible nightmares and significant difficulties being around people. He was suffering from PTSD, but wasn’t self-aware enough to recognize the symptoms.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of an injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, will dulled responses to others and the outside world.
Crosby gave up again and had another nearly fatal overdose. But this one changed his life for good.
Crosby was admitted to an in-treatment program at the VA Hospital in Madison. During his extended stay, he was treated for his drug and alcohol addiction and received counseling to help develop coping skills to manage his PTSD.
Crosby was eventually released from the hospital and placed at Serenity House, a supportive recovering community, where he would have a safe place to live and get his basic needs met while he rebuilt his life.
While living at Serenity House, Crosby started attending church services and he made connections with Take-A-Vet-Fishing, a non-profit veteran organization whose mission is to assist veterans struggling with PTSD. These two new opportunities would set his life on an entirely different spiral.
Through Take-A-Vet-Fishing, Crosby met his new employer, Wayne Baum, the owner of The Undercover Shop in Milton, Wis., who hired him on the spot. Crosby also met Ed Garza, the Director of Veteran Services at CUW who would help him maximize his veteran education benefits by enrolling at the University.
While attending church services at Serenity House, Crosby discovered his faith and acknowledges that all the good things that have happened to him since walking in those doors would not have been possible without first opening himself up to Jesus Christ and all that is planned for him.
The Veteran Services Department is focused on educating veterans and their families on how to best use the military education benefits they have earned. Andrew Crosby, veteran student attending CUW
Crosby does custom upholstery work at The Undercover Shop and is being mentored to learn the business from the ground up so that he can take it over one day. According to Crosby, “I’m a hands-on learner. I have to see how things work.”
As an adult student at CUW, Crosby chooses to commute from Janesville, Wis. to Madison each week (a little over an hour) to attend classes in person even though the courses are available online.
“I take classes in person because there are a lot of cool people there and I get energy from the other students and professors,” he said.
Crosby is one of 369 veteran students attending CUW under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. According to Ed Garza, Director of Veteran Services at CUW, “The Veteran Services Department is focused on educating veterans and their families on how to best use the military education benefits they have earned. The Veteran Services Department’s effort to educate and provide valuable assistance to our nation’s heroes have helped increased the veteran population at Concordia University by over 100%”.
Crosby lives independently now, but still regularly checks in with the VA and continues to attend church services at the Serenity House. He is also close with his family and finds joy in mentoring other young veterans who are struggling transitioning into civilian life. While he still suffers from PTSD, he is thankful to have coping skills to help manage the symptoms and overcome the challenges that once overwhelmed him.
“I feel I have a lot of work to do, but I can’t begin to comprehend how things are falling into place.”
— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.