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[ Fighting Gravity ]

U.S. Navy Veteran |Aurelio Ayala The Army and Marines pound boots on the ground. But sailors? We spend our time on the water — on a piece of metal — fighting gravity. Ships move left, right, up, and down — all at the same time. It wasn’t until I stepped out of uniform that I understood what that meant. In a matter of six months, my whole body began to deteriorate. I went to the doctor, and they found arthritis in every joint in my body. Did you know that it takes five years of build-up before arthritis even shows up on an X-ray? In the Navy, I was an Electronic Warfare Technician on surface combatant warships. Iran, Syria, Somalia — we were always in a position where things could get ugly — and fast. I’m honored to have served my country, but 23 years on the open water has taken a toll on me. I used to think of mental health only in terms of PTSD and suicidal ideations. But mental health is interesting. And it tends to throw people off with all its stigmas. The truth is, chronic pain affects our day-to-day mental health — the way we think and act. Once I understood this, I took ownership of my disability. The system currently in place for veterans doesn’t make filing disability claims easy — there’s no real training or guidance on how to help you. I fought most of the way through the claims process alone. Then, In 2020, I got connected with VA Claims Insider, and they walked with me to the finish line. Within a few months, I increased my VA disability rating from 90% — to 100% P&T. I’m five years retired from the Navy but still wired like I’m on active duty. I’m always doing — thinking about doing — or planning something. Thankfully now, I can take a step back and know I have full benefits for me and my family. — Aurelio Ayala