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Hidden Wounds BIO

Written by:  Brian Horrocks, University of Oxford

 

Steven Diaz

The beginning is never as important as the end, or in Steven�������s case where you end up. His story begins in 2005, Iraq. Assigned to convoy security, Steven escorted vehicles to and from Al Asad Airbase while searching and clearing Improvised Explosive Devices from his assigned area. Steven bravely and successfully located many IEDs for three months, until one found him and asked for his life.

But this is not the end.

Born in Mexico, Steven���s parents immigrated to the United States to start a church for the local Hispanic population of Columbia, South Carolina. He grew up in a Christian home and attended public schools all the way and through his high school graduation. Being raised with American traditions, values, and customs, Steven fell in love with the American way of life. He was so grateful for the freedoms given to him and his family he wanted to give back. Steven joined the United States Marine Corps in 2005 and was later stationed in Okinawa, Japan. While in Japan he then volunteered with a military police unit out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to go to Iraq. After being severely injured by an IED.

Steven Diaz is a medically retired Marine Veteran and the current Chief Operations Officer of Hidden Wounds, a non-profit headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina. Hidden Wounds strives to provide psychological resources and public education concerning post war obstacles and challenges. Enlisting in the United States Marine Corps directly following high school, Steven valiantly served our country in Japan and Iraq before experiencing the perils of war.

Directly after his injuries were inflicted upon him, Steven was sent to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland to recover. With restrained hands, partial vision, and substantial medical equipment, Steven woke up with the memories of his encounter replaced by confusion, a feeling of helplessness, and above all, fear. Shrapnel now litters his body and brain, leaving him blind in his left eye, nearly costing him his foot, and leaving him unable to walk or stand for long periods of time. He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and a seizure disorder.

Overseas, Steven saw every type of injury. At home, these injuries manifested themselves into a psychological torment; a psychological battle he saw not only fellow veterans fighting, but the friends and family there to support him. Steven personally knew and watched three close friends fight the same symptoms of PTS he did. The symptoms without proper knowledge and treatment ultimately took the lives of his fellow comrades, one of which being Mills Palmer Bigham, the brother of the founder of Hidden Wounds, Anna Bigham. The fight with these post-war ailments drives Steven to support and help the veterans he fought beside.

Overcome with a sense of survivor’s guilt after his good friend Marine Corporal Joshua Scott Blankenship took his own life, Steven stepped up his efforts with Hidden Wounds accepting the role of Director of Strategic Partnerships half a year past the conception of the organization. With Hidden Wounds, he helps to create a network of psychological support- a network for where service members and family members may find someone who can relate and understands the urgency of treatment, professional peer to peer support, and other holistic treatment methods. Engaging his raw perspective with his drive for recovery, Steven has assisted Hidden Wounds to help thousands of veterans totaling over hundreds of thousands of treatment minutes and counting. Steven sympathizes with the negative emotions and defeated feelings our heroes often feel when returning home, and takes his own experience with these battles to help ease and heal the hidden wounds of the people we love.

Steven currently resides in Columbia, South Carolina and is married to Mississippi native Laura Diaz. They have two Beagles named Wade Hampton and Chester Nimitz.

Steven was awarded the 2012 Jeep 6th Man Contest, serves as a deacon for Centennial ARP Church, is a board member for several local organizations to include the National Society for Hispanics with Maters in Business Administration, Marine Corps League, Capital City Young Republicans, and the South Carolina Veterans Policy Academy.

Anna Bigham 

“There are days in your life you will never forget. Like your first kiss, your first car, or your first job. There���������s a day that has impacted my whole future, and it’s a day, however, that I would like to forget. That day was Monday, October 19th, 2009.”

Anna Bigham is the Founder and Executive Director of Hidden Wounds, a non-profit organization assisting veterans, families and friends overcoming the mental battles after departing from war.

Starting the day like any other, Anna could never foresee how October 19th 2009 would end. At the time working a nine-to-five in tourism, Anna returned to her home on that morning in October to her father’s friend Dave waiting for her return. The sinking feeling upon seeing him was validated upon the news: Her brother had taken his own life, via a gun and bullet to his very forehead.

Prior to his suicide Anna had taken her little brother in, caring and guiding him away from his psychological challenges. Marine Lance Corporal Mills Palmer Bigham completed four years of valiant service and two brave tours in Iraq, proudly and happily serving The United States of America.  After returning home, and beginning the process of seeking help, Mills approached his sister and divulged his struggle the Post Traumatic Stress; Anna worked with the medical professionals attending to her brother and sought the guidance of her parents to support Mills in the best way possible. Three weeks later, Anna was picking her brother up after he shot through his front door upon the knock of a visitor. Anna described his eyes and demeanor as black.

Mills Bigham was not given the care he was promised and deserved even after transporting himself several times and being taken by first responders to the Veterans Administration Hospital. After a number of ten expressed feelings of suicide, which went ignored. time because of his expressed  prematurely released from his assigned medical professionals because he didn’t opt for health insurance after his return home. The country he so bravely fought and supported failed him at time when he needed them most. With Veteran Affairs being understaffed and underfunded, Mills fell through the cracks of the system, and was ultimately forgotten. He lived with Anna for the three months up until the day he gave up and took his own life.

Anna immediately took the pledge to educate the public of post war battles. Just three weeks after her brother’s death, Anna and her father went on-air with Hannah Horne at WISTV.  She describes her brother’s sleepless and restless behavior; cries for help she wanted to ease. Hoping that sharing her and her brother’s story could potentially save other lives, Anna embodied her promise through interviews, education, and most importantly in the form of Hidden Wounds.

Anna has experienced the post war wounds in a loved individual, seeing the struggle to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, supporting and guiding a loved one through these battles, the failure of the Veteran���s Affairs, and the subsequent death of her brother. Her experience with Mills drives her everyday to educate, and support the individuals and their families who fought heroically next to her brother.

Hidden Wounds supports veterans by creating a network of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and fellow veterans, along with partnering with Give An Hour, and several other psychological associations from South Carolina and surrounding states. If a veteran, active duty personnel, family member, friend or any other person calls seeking psychological care of any kind, Hidden Wounds can connect them with a specially trained mental health professional within 5-10 miles of the comfort of their home.

Anna Bigham and Steven Diaz

Anna Bigham, Founder, and Steven Diaz, Chief Operations Officer have worked together and triangulated ideas with the Board of Directors to guide Hidden Wounds from an idea to a tangible and thriving non-profit. To this day, Hidden Wounds has assisted ­­­veterans nationwide and their families, totaling nearly 516,000 hours of counseling. Steven, a veteran who served in the Marines and suffered total body injuries as the result of an IED provides a first hand account of the trauma of war, and the wounds that follow them home. Anna, brings forth the story of her struggles regarding her brother, and his failed battle with PTS. Together, Anna and Steven bring forth the needed experience Hidden Wounds seeks to battle everyday.

Veteran Affairs and the Armed Forces have made great progression in the safety and health of the volunteers who fearlessly combat in war on behalf of our country; these systems have a great deal more modification to reach an ideal structure and general organization that benefits all parties equally. In 2005 and 2006, help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder presently referred to as Post Traumatic Stress was nearly non-existent. Veterans experiencing the horrifying ordeal of reliving warfare at home were brushed off, forgotten, and ignored; it was a stigma the military wanted to avoid addressing at all costs, including losing the men who fought for them without a second thought. An outcry from the general public advocating for these service members’ influenced the military to begin acknowledging the existence of PTSD, at which point treatment became more prominent. Still many of today’s warriors do not receive the help they are promised, and deserve. Hidden Wounds seeks to fill the void in healthcare that Veteran Affairs and military hospitals create and maintain. Hidden Wounds does this by providing auxiliary psychological support and education that reveals the trauma our heroes are battling no longer overseas, but instead at home.

Both Anna and Steven strive to assist the people affected by PTS and other post-war battles everyday. Devoting themselves to the veteran community, together they are accomplishing extraordinary feats in a subject that cries for help. Directly addressing the system that brought each of them suffering and pain, Anna and Steven took matters into their own hands, and turned their respective trauma into a profound and effective community by way of giving through Hidden Wounds. Today and everyday they continuously help each other cope and likewise the people they encounter. The extraordinary team dynamic between these two is undeniable. Even while attending the same high school and growing up in the same neighborhood their lives never crossed paths until tragedy united a likewise passion and purpose.

Steven does not regret his military career; despite the physical implications it brought him. Anna translates the pain and confusion of her brothers’ death as the guiding source for her life�����s purpose. The raw perspective Anna brings with Steven���s first hand account of post war afflictions compliment each other and bring forth a plethora of knowledge and experience; both of their hidden wounds allow them to transcend a perspective that fits the mission of Hidden Wounds.

 

 

Steven Diaz and Anna Bigham

Steven Diaz and Anna Bigham

 

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