EL PASO — Thousands of military members who go overseas to fight in war come back home with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and the consequences can be tragic. A family who lost their loved one during his battle with PTSD is dedicating their lives to helping other military members and their families.
At a young age, Anthony Patrick Mena knew he was going to defend our country. He graduated from Eastwood High School in 2004 and joined the Air Force, based at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
"He loved his job. He was very young. He was only 18. It was the month after he had graduated from high school when he took off to basic training," said Pat Mena.
And not long after, he was ready to deploy to Iraq.
"He was really anxious to deploy,” said Pat Mena. “That was his big dream to serve his country, to go abroad and I begged him, 'Please hold off. Our country is at war right now' and I remember him telling me. We were sitting right here and he said, 'Momma, someone has to defend our country.'”
He returned home six months later. But, Pat Mena said her son was eager to go back. Just a year later, he deployed for a second time on a special mission to train Iraqi police officers.
When he came home his mother said it was just like old times.
"I noticed him and he looked very happy. He looked fine and I thought, 'Oh, thank god. He adjusted well,'" said Pat Mena.
But a few months later, Tony told his family some devastating news. He had been diagnosed with PTSD.
"He said it was very difficult to deal with the dead bodies because a lot of times they were... the bodies were cut in half or they were headless. You know body parts were missing," said Pat Mena.
After fighting in war, Tony was fighting an emotional battle within himself. Doctors prescribed Tony various medications.
"They put him on antidepressants. They put him on tranquilizers. He started complaining about a pain in his back so they put him on painkillers so he had very strong painkillers that he was taking. And of course he was suffering from insomnia so they had him on three types of sleeping pills," said Pat Mena.
The son that once loved the Air Force, now, wanted a discharge.
Pat said she saw him physically weak, but at one point, it seemed like he was ready to move ahead after military life. He talked about opening his own cigar shop and asked his mom for help.
Days later that would change. Pat and her husband called Tony, like they did every night.
"My husband would always ask him, he'd say, 'Why do I love you so much?' And Tony would always say 'Because I'm your son,'He goes 'you got that right boy' he goes 'i love you. I'll see you tomorrow."
But the 23-year-old would not see tomorrow.
Just hours later, Pat Mena received a frantic call from Tony's girlfriend.
"She was screaming, 'Tony's dead. He's dead.' I remained very calm. I guess your body just goes into shock. But I can remember I said, 'Michelle, calm down. Have you called 911?' She says, 'No, but I know he's dead. He's not breathing. He's not breathing and he's already hard.' I said, 'Call 911.' I just keep hoping maybe there's still hope," said Pat Mena.
That was the day life changed forever for the Mena family.
"I was in shock. It was like... I think it took a long time. I cried a little bit but I had just seen my son. It was like he was still there," said Pat Mena.
The medical examiner ruled Tony's death an accidental overdose.
The same medications the doctors prescribed him are the ones that ultimately killed him.
"They told us his system was suppressed. He died with nine medications in his system. There was no alcohol. He did not take anything over the limit," said Pat Mena."After going through his records, he was taking some 30 some, maybe not taking them all at once, but he had been prescribed 30 some different medications."
Now, the Mena family turns their heartache into helping others.
Pat Mena recently wrote a book called, You'll Be Fine Darling which tells Tony's story.
"I wrote this book because I want our troops to know that they're not alone in their suffering and also I want the families to know that there are ways that they can help their loved ones that are suffering from PTSD," said Pat Mena.
She said she has received an outpouring of support.
"They'll thank me for putting the book out there. They'll tell me, 'My husband or my boyfriend, or my daughter, my son are going through the exact same thing that our son is going through,'" said Pat Mena.
Her family has also partnered with the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, to put on the Tony Mena Memorial Race for PTSD Awareness.
The race has become a big success over the past three years and Pat Mena hopes it will continue to grow.
She said she hopes her efforts can make a difference in the treatment of our suffering troops and their families.
"Like with our other troops. They do not need to be medicated. They need someone to listen to them," said Pat Mena.
The Mena family has created a website, www.tonymena.com , where people can learn more about Anthony Mena and the book, You'll Be Fine Darling.