From reporter Jess Mador:
Patrick Nelson, a former Army paratrooper, was injured in a June 2005 explosion in Afghanistan during an attack on a landing strip in a remote village. Two other soldiers died. His body is still riddled with shrapnel.
Covering Nelson’s biggest scar is a tattoo of a cross on his back that he got after the explosion. Inscribed on the cross is the date of the attack and the initials of a friend who died. Since that day, he has been taking painkillers. He’s up to eight Vicodin pills a day, but it no longer dulls his ache.
After he was injured Nelson wanted to continue serving in the military and thought he would have to accept the persistent back pain in combat. In the mountains of Afghanistan, medics would sometimes administer muscle relaxer to ease his pain.
“It was my job at the time. I didn’t really have an option,” he said. “I wasn’t the type of guy to go and raise my hand and say, ‘Ah, I can’t do this one,’” he said. “You train with those guys for so long, and I had already deployed twice. It’s not like I was scared or didn’t know what I was getting into.”
But his injuries affected his military service. Ailing and no longer able to keep up with younger paratroopers, he left the military in 2008.
Doctors diagnosed him with a shoulder injury, bulging discs and a degenerative arthritis condition in his back. Nelson, 30, also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and a possible brain injury.
The VA has classified Nelson as 90 percent disabled and sends him a disability check every month. Despite his high disability rating, he works as an event coordinator for a nonprofit golf organization and spends much of every day trying to ignore his pain.
“I would give anything to be pain-free right now and to not get that check every month and just to live a normal life,” he said.