Our First Responders: Samuel Askins

Samuel Askins served in Iraq as an airborne infantryman and staff sergeant and spent 17 years as a paratrooper, stationed all across the U.S. Today, he’s back in Texas, helping other combat vets recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.

As director of Texas outreach for PTSD Foundation of America, Askins runs interventions throughout Texas, responding to vets in crisis, and trains members of the foundation’s six-month free housing and rehabilitation program for combat vets, Camp Hope.

He says that since the pandemic, a lot of businesses went down — but his quadrupled.

The health and economic struggles veterans already face daily have been compounded by the pandemic. Half of U.S. veterans are age 65 or over, a vulnerable age group for COVID-19. A 2014 study from South Texas Veterans Health Care System found that veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have an increased risk of developing respiratory illnesses, putting them at even greater risk.

By mid-November, Veteran Affairs had recorded more than 83,000 COVID-19 cases, and several VA hospitals in Texas were dealing with more than 1,000 cases, according to the AARP.

Trevor Paulhus

Between high case numbers in residential homes, lack of health insurance, and isolation, help is needed now more than ever. That makes the work of foundations dedicated to helping veterans even more crucial.

Askins knows better than most what PTSD can do to a person. His own trials with the condition were what led him to help others recover.

“They fight a war, and then they come home and lose the war in their head,” Askins says. “After the military, you don’t have an identity. Who was I? I was 33 years old getting medically retired. My life was dedicated to being a soldier. I had no clue of who I was.”

Finding a support group in Houston made the difference. “I knew I wasn’t ready to enter the workforce,” he says. “I didn’t feel rehabilitated. I still had a lot of doubt and fear.” But he knew he could make a difference when he learned about Camp Hope — which he helped build.

It began with 50 guys sitting around a fire pit talking their way through PTSD.

“Combat vets drove from all over Texas to be with their people,” Askins says. “All these Texans who needed help and didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

It’s since grown into a fully staffed nonprofit that hosts support groups for other first responders too, including firefighters, nurses, EMTs, and police — meetings that now happen over video.

Askins’ role includes leading group meetings and traveling across Texas
to open new chapters, each of which is locally supported and focuses on local outreach — drumming up support, fundraising, and acting as first responders to distress calls.

“It’s the definition of Texans helping Texans.”

“It’s the definition of Texans helping Texans,” Askins says. “When the pandemic first broke out, we were spraying down groceries for the elderly, leaving them at the doorstep.” This level of community outreach has been vital to veterans across Texas.

“Nobody likes what’s going on right now, nor do we like being isolated,” Askins says. “PTSD pushes you into isolation — now you’re being forced into it. For those of us that have worked hard, and now we’re being forced to go back to what we’ve been urged not to do …” it’s been difficult.

Among the Camp Hope volunteers are Askins’ Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent, Dainna Bunch, and her husband, Mike. Bunch now insures Askins’ hay farm in Grapeland, where he grows pear and peach trees and keeps deer.

Askins says the way through is to keep moving forward. Like the pandemic, “PTSD is a systemic illness that can be stopped,” he says, and “Texas does the best out of any state to make sure that soldiers and first responders are taken care of.”

Samuel Askins is a Texas Farm Bureau member. Dainna Bunch, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent in Houston, nominated him for this series. Read about our other first responders, Kirk Burnett, Nichole Michels, Ryan Michels, Brigette Munoz, Delaney Sweeney, and Brent Tymrak.

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