Young U.S. Navy vet helping others with PTSD

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Veterans Administration is now offering a number of apps to help vets cope with PTSD. It’s in addition to whatever in-person services a former service member might need either through the VA or one of dozens of non-profits, like Semper Fi & America’s Fund, that help to fill the gap.

Ellie Smith always knew what she wanted to do when she got older.

“A lot of my friends growing up were military kids and in high school I got into Jr. ROTC, loved it and I said, alright this is the direction I want my life to go,” she recalls. 

Smith made that dream a reality when she enlisted in the U.S. Navy right out of high school.

“I was stationed in Washington on the USS Nimitz and being on an aircraft carrier is amazing,” she tells News10NBC. 

But just 24 hours before her first underway she started feeling sick, she couldn’t hear well and had a blinding headache.

“They ended up doing a cat scan and ended up finding a plum size tumor on my brain stem,” she recalls. “I just sat there, I was up the whole night because I’m like… I’m 19, I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m doing something I absolutely love,” and it all came to a screeching halt. 

There were surgeries, transfusions, radiation, and chemotherapy.

“Everything happens at first and everyone’s like oh my gosh, how can we help, what can we do and then as it comes on, it dies out a little bit,” Smith says. 

She was able to finish out her initial commitment to the Navy but from behind a desk when she was well enough. It wasn’t what she had dreamed of and that made an already tough situation, even worse.

“I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and then it later led to a PTSD diagnosis.”

It’s not the service-related PTSD that so many of her fellow veterans face but Smith found help and strength in an organization called Semper Fi & America’s Fund. The organization had offered services to her family during diagnosis and treatment and unlike other help that came and went, The Fund continues to host weekly meetings for all the veterans it serves who are still struggling.

“Every call is just talking about, alright here’s where my head is at, this is what I’m struggling with,” Smith says. 

It’s helped her move forward and cope with living a life different than what she envisioned. She says she has found purpose in trying to help others with PTSD.

“You have to know that you can’t set limits on yourself, because you’re always going to be better than you hope to be,” Smith says.