Last Updated: 11/02/2012*

Veteran wounded in mortar attack breaks free of depression

Schiliro Image
Nancy Schiliro, right, helps another veteran during a Wounded Warrior Project retreat. Schiliro lost an eye to infection after a mortar attack in Iraq.

Her grandmother called it the "cave:” a tiny, dark room in the garage where Nancy Schiliro lived out her days in shame and fear.

Schiliro had lost her right eye during a mortar attack while serving as a Marine in Iraq. Now, outfitted with a prosthetic eye, she hated looking in the mirror. She hated going outside. She hated meeting strangers. 

“I wasn’t able to face who I was, what I looked like," Schiliro said. “I just thought, `I’ll live the rest of my life, the next 40 or 50 years, in this room until I die.'"

As U.S. deployments wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. service members are returning home with emotional and physical wounds like Schiliro’s.

This month Raytheon has launched a program, Hashtags4Heroes, aimed at mobilizing support for Wounded Warrior Project, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based group that provides counseling, training and other services for veterans and their families.

When Schiliro signed up for the Marine Corps Reserve in 2003, she never imagined she would one day be holed up in a garage. A self-described tomboy from Scarsdale, N.Y., she was a college graduate and an enthusiastic Marine.

She was activated in 2004 and sent to Iraq as an embarker, in charge of organizing shipments of ammunition, food and other supplies.

In February 2004 Schiliro was fueling her deuce-and-a-half truck at a base in Al Asad, Iraq. Suddenly a mortar round hit one of the large bladders used to store diesel fuel. The bladder erupted in flame, hurling Schiliro to the ground.

“There was a bright light, a big sound and a whoosh of wind,” Schiliro said. “It burned for hours — clouds of big, black smoke.”

The impact shattered Schiliro’s retina. Her eye became infected. Doctors operated four times without success. Finally they decided to remove her eyeball to stop the infection from spreading to her other eye.

Back home in the United States, Schiliro retreated to the little room in her grandmother’s garage. She started drinking.

“For almost three years I didn’t work, I didn’t go to school, I didn’t do anything,” Schiliro said. “The (post traumatic stress), it made me feel crazy. I thought that this was the life I deserved.”

Schiliro Image
Nancy Schiliro battled depression for years after being wounded in Iraq and receiving a prosthetic eye. Her life turned around after she went on a Wounded Warrior Project retreat.

A friend finally persuaded her to go to a veterans’ center. There she met a representative from Wounded Warrior Project who invited her on a retreat with 14 other wounded women.

As the women shared their stories, Schiliro said, “a light bulb went off in my head: my life is not that bad. I should not be living like this as a 27-year-old woman.”

She began to see her wounds as a badge of courage — something that sets apart Americans who have made sacrifices for their country.

She began volunteering with Wounded Warrior Project and eventually took a job with the group. She works in the Project Odyssey retreat program, one of 18 services the group offers.

Schiliro now organizes seven trips a year for other veterans. She has an active social life and a service dog, and she recently bought a home.

“Life is completely different now,” Schiliro said. “It’s not living in that cave anymore.”

 

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