Being Pulled Over
Seeing the flashing blue and red lights of a police car signaling you to pull over can be terrifying. Your mind races with all the possible reasons why they might have stopped you.
You wonder if you were speeding or if a taillight was out. You push down the fear and try to smile innocently as you prepare to talk to the officer.
Once you pull over, it's unlikely that you will be able to leave without receiving a ticket. However, this wasn't the case for William Jazwinski.
William Jazwinski was a war veteran who was driving down the road and minding his own business when he was pulled over for no apparent reason.
William grew up in Somers, New York and attended Arlington High School. From a young age, he had a desire to serve his country and aspired to become a sergeant.
When he was only ten years old, William expressed his desire to join the U.S. Army. His mother was understandably worried about this.
In 2003, during the Iraq war, William was given the opportunity to pursue his dreams as he was one of the 177,194 troops deployed to the war zone.
William left behind his girlfriend, family, and everything he knew in order to prepare for the possibility of the worst. His family waited for him, hoping that he would not be one of the 4,000 troops who did not return home.
Fortunately, William was able to return home after only a year of service. However, the experiences he had in the war greatly affected him and he found it difficult to return to his previous way of life.
William's family encouraged him to seek counseling and it appeared to be helping him at first. However, he could not escape the dark thoughts that constantly weighed on him. That is, until a strange encounter on a deserted road provided him with a sudden change of perspective.
After a disappointing counseling session, William started the long drive back to his home in Lefors, Texas. He focused on the road ahead and allowed his mind to wander.
William was thinking about his wife and daughter at home. He was grateful for their support and didn't want to consider what his life would be like without them. That's when he realized that the car behind him had been tailing him for a while.
William looked at the car's odometer and was relieved to see that he was not speeding. He had also checked that his lights were working properly the day before, so he couldn't understand why the police would be following him.
William tried to convince himself that he was just being paranoid. However, a small voice in the back of his mind urged him to double check just to be safe.
Escaping The Police
William saw an opportunity to take a different road ahead of him and quickly took it. He switched to a lower gear and turned onto a less busy road. He kept an eye on the police car behind him in his mirror.
As expected, the car appeared again over the hill. He realized that he was being followed. He was expecting to hear the warning siren any moment. However, what happened next only made him more uneasy.
A Nerve-Wracking Wait
William's nerves were getting the better of him and he was starting to panic because he was waiting for the siren that never came. From his time in the military, he knew that waiting for something to happen can be more stressful than knowing what's coming.
After five minutes, there was still no sign of the police. No loudspeaker, no sirens - just him and the police car following him quietly on a deserted road.
Suddenly, he saw the flash of blue and felt somewhat relieved. This was the signal that the police wanted him to pull over, which he did. He then went through the usual routine of presenting his license and having a brief conversation with the officer. He assumed that he would be allowed to continue on his way after that. However, he was wrong.
William, as he slowed down and pulled onto the side of the road, had no idea that this odd encounter was about to become even more unusual.
He’d Done Nothing
William’s day began to get a little weird when he rolled down his window to ask the officer outside what the matter seemed to be.
And when the officer said that he actually wasn’t in any trouble and hadn’t done anything to break the law, William noticed that his eyes had moved to the dashboard of his car — coming to rest on something they both held dear.
He Served His Country
William was a former Heavy Wheeled Vehicle Operator for the US Army. He also served in Iraq. Then, he saw that the police officer was looking at the American Flag that he kept there for remembrance
But he never expected what happened next to unfold. It began with the officer simply wanting to give thanks, but it became so much more.
A Strong Connection
After the usual chit-chat, the officer finally opened up about why he was so grateful to the war vet. He began by asking about Williams’ time over there and slowly it unfolded.
The story that the unnamed officer told him had a strong connection to everything that William had been through. And soon William would know everything.
Too Much To Handle
The veteran prominently displayed two symbols from his time in the military on his car, one is an Army sticker on his bumper, and the other is the American flag which the officer had been drawn to.
It was the sticker that alerted him to who was driving the car. Only then could he see who was inside. Who he saw astonished him. It was almost too much for him to bear.
Still In Pain
William told the officer a bit about his trip, “I went to Iraq. I did a 15-month stint out of Fort Benning.” And that’s when everything started spilling out.
The officer, in turn, told William some news that was still haunting him to this very day. And seeing William only brought up more unresolved pain.
Suffering The Same
“My son went to Iraq. He didn’t make it home.” Knowing the pain and having been there firsthand, William offered his condolences and also his help.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. I just finished a PTSD program.” PTSD is short for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something not uncommon among military men and women.
They Both Had It
“I see you have a flag in the truck. The one we got for him! It’s at the house,” and just like that, the officer asked him a question, or a favor, that William simply couldn’t refuse.
“Can I ask a question?” Would you mind stepping out and receiving a hug? You remind me of my son. You look exactly like him!”
“When I pulled you over it was because you looked so much like him. I thought you were my son. I still don’t believe he’s gone most days,” the officer said with tears in his eyes.
So did William hug the officer? You had better believe it. According to his Facebook post, it wasn’t just any old hug either.
‘With tears in both our eyes, I got out and hugged that man. I’m talking about for a minute or two crying. Down to our knees crying. I needed that,’ William wrote.
Both men seemed to release some grief… With a total stranger. At that moment, William felt himself let go of something that he’d been holding onto for so long.
It was as if the hug from the policeman had dissolved William’s fears and trauma. He almost felt it evaporate and rise up into the ether as both men stood on that empty road, hugging and crying.
It was exactly the release he had needed. It was that heartfelt moment of human contact with a total stranger that had healed his PTSD far more than any counseling session could. He couldn’t wait to go home to his wife and daughter and tell them everything. But, in many ways, William was luckier than many other veterans.
Veterans In America
William is very aware of what happens to war veterans when they have to reintegrate into society, and he is actually one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Many end up with PTSD but also become unemployed or homeless.
With an estimated 40,000 veterans living on the streets at any given time, America has a huge problem. But why?
Life After Service
Those that sacrificed their lives to serve their country shouldn’t be dealing with homelessness, a lack of medical care, and neglect after they are discharged. For years, the issue of homeless veterans has been largely ignored by the government.
“It’s so heartbreaking. They served our country and America should be taking better care of them. I feel like they’re overlooked,” said Adeline Gonzalez. From Daytona, Florida.
Seeing homeless veterans is always upsetting. It’s difficult to believe that these people were tough and strong-willed at a point in their lives.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for homeless veterans to also be disabled or mentally unstable. And not many people are aware of what former service members experience after their return to civilian life.
For veterans, the transition from service to civilian life is a tough one. Veterans often face PTSD from their experiences on the battlefield.
And they often turn to substance abuse as a way to treat themselves and forget about their problems as they struggle to adapt to their new lives – and this just compounds the issue.
William’s experiences in a war zone – although relatively short – scarred him for the rest of his life. Like many others, combat exposure, deployment, training accidents and witnessing an injury or death, and other traumatic events negatively impacted his mental health.
The symptoms of PTSD included flashbacks, negative thoughts and feelings, and constantly worrying that something or someone was going to harm him or his family.
When William came back from the war zone, he experienced terrible flashbacks, sleeplessness, and was easily startled by loud noises in his neighborhood – he’d be put right back into survival mode if he heard a firework or a car backfiring.
Thankfully, he had a wife and kids to keep him grounded and hadn’t turned to substance abuse to help him cope, unlike so many others.
The leading factors thought to lead to homelessness among veterans are PTSD, unemployment, and substance abuse.
Studies have shown that poor mental health among veterans is a common problem, and mental illness is a strong predictor of vets becoming homeless. Some of the biggest challenges U.S. veterans face, however, are social isolation and a lack of support.
Veterans Affairs Backlogs
Another major issue veterans face is a long backlog of claims in Veterans Affairs. This means that even if a homeless veteran tries to get help from the government, they often do not receive it in a timely manner.
While Veterans Affairs isn’t harming veterans directly, the lack of consistent and timely help is. The programs through VA only reach around 40% of their intended recipients. So, how do they get help?
What Is Being Done?
While homelessness is a chronic issue across America, Los Angeles seems to be the epicenter. There are around 4,000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles alone.
Decreasing this number is a painfully slow process because more veterans are becoming homeless faster than they can find somewhere to stay. So, what is being done about the problem?
The Housing First initiative’s approach is that providing permanent housing for homeless veterans is a priority. By providing housing for the homeless first, homeless people can then pursue their personal goals and improve their quality of life. And the initiative is working.
In 2014, Phoenix moved the final group of chronically homeless veterans into housing and effectively solved the problem. Now, other states have been following suit.