As Rick Martinez was graduating from high school in 1982, his drinking and drug use were becoming excessive. After an unsuccessful attempt at college and several months aimlessly playing softball, Martinez knew he needed a lifestyle change. It dawned on him that one of the only ways to get out of his hometown of Corpus Christi was to enlist.
In 1985, Martinez joined the military with the hope that it would straighten out his behavior. He felt the rigorous training and required discipline would help him lessen his drinking and kick his drug habit. For a while it did, but once he turned in his 214 form and went back to Corpus, he fell back into his old ways.
After his younger brother’s suicide in 1992, Martinez knew what rock-bottom was.
“I got worse. I didn't seek any therapy. I just did what I did [which was] self-medicate,” Martinez explained during his StoryCorps interview. “That's what they call it now, is what I realized I was doing. My uncle Oscar finally came out and said, ‘We need to get him to San Antonio, to the VA.’”
With the help of his family, Martinez realized that Veterans Affairs (VA) could provide him with the help and treatment he desperately needed.
“They got me here and the rest is history,” said Martinez.
When he finally went for treatment at the VA, he recalls a wise old man telling him, “Rick, there's one thing you have to change — everything.”
When asked what he would tell his uncles Rudy and Oscar about how their love and concern changed his life, Martinez answered,
“I would just tell them ‘thank you.’ You know, for never quitting, for believing… they believed in me. I realized what family means. … All I had to do was not drink or do drugs for a little while to see the light. And I realized that today. Today, every time I see them I thank them and give them a hug, and look at their lives and how good they are doing and I want to be like that too.”
Recorded on Feb. 8, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas.
Rick Martinez: So there I am coming back to Corpus. No job, no nothing. [Only with] my 214 and a little money to get home. That was it. One of the big reasons that I did not say why I joined the military is that I was smoking a little bit of weed, doing drugs, and drinking a lot. When I got back home it was like I just fell back into the old ways.
Hazel Diaz: So tell me about when you got to the bottom of this disparity, and what was really the thing that made you turn around?
RM: I did not mention it but my brother had committed suicide in 1992.
HD: Which brother was this?
RM: This was Bob.
HD: So tell me about Bob and what lead to this point of his life and how that affected you then.
RM: Well Bob, me and Bob were the same. We did a lot of drinking growing up young. So I always had a lot of stuff that I did not do correctly that I realize today as a VA consular.
HD: Bob's death was basically your rock-bottom or did it spiral you into a worse or deeper depression?
RM: Yeah, you are right. I got worse. I didn't seek any therapy. I just did what I did which was self-medicate — that's what they call it now, what I realize what I was doing. My uncle Oscar finally came out and said: “We need to get him to San Antonio, to the VA.” He was a Vietnam veteran that had came to the VA. And it just kind of blew me away. From ‘89 when I got out, to ‘99 (10 years) I had not even thought about the VA -
HD: - as a resource.
RM: As a resource! Talk about a bad transition, you know what I mean.
HD: Yeah they hand you your 214, and then you kind of get off the bus.
RM: Yeah! So they got me here and the rest is history. I came for treatment here at the VA, and a wise old man told me one time: “Rick, there's one thing you have to change.” And I was like what's that and he said “everything.”
HD: What would you tell your uncle Rudy and your uncle Oscar about the way that their love for you and their concern has changed everything about your life here 18 years later?
RM: I would just tell them “thank you.” You know for never quitting, for believing, they believed in me. Yeah, I realized what family means. They are the ones that would step out in front of a bus if I was out in the street… they are the ones who would do that. Not these other people that I was hanging out with that I thought were friends. All these other guys were leading me in the wrong way, wrong direction. All I had to do was not drink or do drugs for a little while to see the light. And I realized that today. Today, every time I see them I thank them and give them a hug, and look at their lives and how good they are doing and I want to be like that too.
HD: Awe, I'd say Rick that you are like that.