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Breaking from the Shackles

Darrell supporting another Veteran who once wore the same shoes he did.
Darrell pictured with one of many Veterans he supports to offer a second chance as he once received.

Handcuffed both physically and mentally, U.S. Army Veteran Darrell Guilford, felt like he never left the warzone behind him when he departed from military service.

Once surrounded by a unit of soldiers that shared not just bunk beds, but also battlefield experiences, Darrell was now surrounded by the isolation of civilian life and faced invisible wounds alone.

After leaving the service, these wounds were even harder to mend when the place he called home did not believe in internal warzones.

The once misunderstood Veteran says, “In the beginning I didn't believe in mental health. People in my community didn't get mental help, they didn't believe in that type of thing. I was just thrown back into the civilian life without that brotherhood and nobody to understand me. So, I ended up being incarcerated.”

Behind metal bars and confined to a cell was when Darrell knew it was time to make a change.

The discipline engraved into him from his military service was a constant reminder to not give up. He says, “I was a strong soldier. I served my country. I knew because of this I was going to make it.”

Days away from being homeless, the place he was most unsure of was one of the first calls he dialed once the handcuffs were unlocked from his wrists.

Remembering the very moment he made his life changing call to the West Palm Beach VA, he recalls “At first, I was very skeptical, I did not believe anybody would be there to help me or anybody would be willing to. But, step by step, the Health Care for Re-entry Veterans program (HCRV) proved me wrong.”

Medical appointments after appointments, Darrell finally was able to make sense of his invisible scars without judgment. 

With a sigh of relief, he confesses, “I was drowning. The VA was a life raft thrown to me. I did not want to get back into the same cycle that I was in before.”

Keeping him afloat with the support of a physiatrist, a roof over his head, and a personalized health plan, Darrell landed a career opportunity molded right after his journey.

Unrecognizable from his days behind bars to now a GEO Group Post Release Case Manager, he continues his service by helping those wearing invisible shackles like he once had weighting him down.

In his role, he is now on the other side of the jail cell as he supports a second chance at life to fellow once incarcerated Veterans. From helping with the essentials of clothing to employment, he understands the transition back into the community from military service and incarceration.

He now is the life raft for Veterans. 

He urges Veterans during this Veterans and Military Families Month to take the chance as he once did, “We served this country, so we should allow the VA to serve us. The VA did not give up on me. They [VA] were there for me when I needed it the most, they [VA] listened to me.”

From skepticism to trust, the VA was the second chance to Darrell and now Darrell is that second chance to Veterans.

Learn more about HCRV: