Wounded veterans and their families learn lessons on and off the slopes in Vail | VailDaily.com

Wounded veterans and their families learn lessons on and off the slopes in Vail

17 wounded veterans take part in the annual Winter Family Program put on by the Vail Veterans Program

The Vail Veterans Program welcomed wounded veterans, caregivers and spouses, kids and military hospital support staff in late January.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy photo

Sometimes you have to do hard things.

For Jacob Sevy, a Senior Master Sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, he knows that statement all too well.

Sevy is one of 17 wounded veterans taking part in the annual Winter Family Program put on by the Vail Veterans Program, a nonprofit that was founded in 2004 and brings military wounded and their families to Vail for healing and connection.

Many of the veterans who attend have physical wounds, but for Sevy, it’s the mental wounds from back-to-back deployments and trying to pretend that everything is fine that ails him.

“My first deployment was to Iraq, and I did two tours in Iraq and several rotations in Afghanistan, Syria, Northern Africa, then a bunch down in South America with some narcotic type of stuff and training with all of our partner forces down there,” Sevy said.

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The 18 years caught up with him in the form of issues in the back, neck and shoulders along with headaches, traumatic brain injuries, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression and a short fuse.

“My doctor equated it to me being like a bottle of soda that gets shaken, just waiting to bubble over. I’d get upset and then I’d think, ‘Why did I just yell at the kids?’ And you feel silly or you just kind of withdraw because you don’t have that emotional energy to really engage,” Sevy said.

“I’d spent time alone and become emotional and think to myself, ‘I don’t cry, this is not who I am, this is not what I do,’ I don’t show emotion,” Sevy said.

But, that tactic of stuffing his emotions is what led him to the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility for military injured in San Antonio, Texas, and eventually to the Vail Veterans Program.  

“There’s a lot of guilt there for not being able to engage the way I want to with the kids and with my wife, so it is kind of this vicious cycle,” Sevy said.

Jacob Sevy has been in the military for 18 years. He and his family visited Vail to participate in the Winter Family Program hosted by the Vail Veterans Program.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy photo

Sevy decided it was time to do hard things and face his emotional demons, the wounds people don’t see. During his time at the Center for the Intrepid, he heard about the Vail Veterans Program and was asked to go, but didn’t think it was a serious invitation. Bringing a family of six to Vail with ski instruction, hotel, dinners and lift tickets all taken care of seemed too good to be true.

About a month later, the Sevy family was out in Vail. Sevy’s wife, Dana, college freshman Madeline, Kathryn, 17, Porter, 11, and Joseph, 7.

Some of the family members had a hard time at first.

“My wife and Kathryn really struggled the first day and that night they said, ‘We’re done, we tried, but we’re not going,’” Sevy said.

Sevy walked the fine line of trying to coax Dana and Kathryn to stick with it.

“One of our family mottos is, ‘Tell the truth and never quit.’ So I said, ‘Hey, this feels like we’re kind of quitting, ya know? Just putting that out there.’ Which is hard to tell your wife and 17-year-old that, you can get in trouble quick,” Sevy said. “But we talked about it and they agreed and now they are so happy they did. They caught on during the second day and everyone was all smiles at dinner, and we all realized that we can overcome things, mentally and physically, we’re all learning this together.”

In addition to lessons on the slopes, the families attending the Vail Veterans Program do fun dinners and activities at night.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy photo

Sevy realized that the mountains can teach you a lot.

“Sometimes I could feel a lot of stress and anxiety out there. I’d look down at how steep something was and my instructor said, ‘Stop looking downhill, just do what I’m telling you and you’ll be fine.’ And I guess it is a reminder to not focus on the negative and focus on the skills I’m building and that also works for training mentally,” Sevy said.

Sevy learned a lot from the other participants, too.

“To be able to sit down at dinner with vets from different walks of life and listen to them talk about their injury and then look at their spouse and say, ‘Hey, how did you deal with it?’” Sevy said. “My wife listened to some of their experiences and there’s a lot to learn from each other because you get to this place where you feel like you’re the only one who has this pain.”

After a week on the slopes, Sevy’s family doesn’t want to leave Vail.

“My youngest, Joseph, he cries when the chair lifts close at the end of the day because he wants to stay and ski more,” Sevy said.

“We’ve learned it before, but it is just good to reinforce that hard stuff brings us together and builds memories,” Sevy said. “It’s been a blessing to be here, we are very fortunate we were invited to join the Vail Veterans Program. We’ll take these lessons with us.”

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