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Marine veteran works with Home Base to help veterans heal

sarah mankowitz armando.jpeg
Sarah Mankowitz
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U.S. Marine veteran Armando Hernandez works with Home Base to help veterans transition out of the military. Hernandez talks about the mental health of veterans during and after service.

Armando Hernandez served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. When he returned from Iraq in 2007, he had trouble sleeping.

"Iraq was this concept of hyper vigilance," said Hernandez. "You're just always looking over your shoulder. You're always checking for danger. You become a super light sleeper. You hear everything, and while that is a great trait to have in combat, when you come back home, it's not so great. I really dealt with a lot of insomnia, and sleep anxiety."

His general told him that all veterans experience mental health issues, but Hernandez noticed that no one talked about it.

"If you're struggling with something, they kind of teach you to tuck it down deep and push on and carry on with the mission," he said. "You can only do that so long before fatigue sets in. So, although I didn't take advantage of those services when I was in the Marine Corps, and it took me some time to realize that I even needed them, that’s kinda what got me into the work that I’m in now."

Inspired by his own struggles, and using his degree from the FGCU Exercise Science program, Hernandez took his skills to work with an organization called Home Base. It had just expanded to Southwest Florida.

"Home Bases' mission is to help veterans, servicemembers and their families heal from the invisible wounds, such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, depression, co-occurring substance use, and those types of things," he said.

Hernandez was excited when Home Base added exercise and wellness to its services. "The light bulb turns on for me, right? Because fitness and the structure have provided all these tools for me. Wellness is what happened to be my key thing that helped me kind of transition out of the military."

He sees that exercise and wellness have the power not only to heal, but also to change attitudes.

"We just have to continue to fight the stigma around mental health, because that's another reason that veterans aren't taking advantage of these services is because they don't want to be labeled in a certain way."