US Marine veteran and PVA member Alex Benoit during the 2015 National Disabled Veteran Winter Sports Clinic. Photo by Christopher DiVirgilio
The fight continues for US Marine veteran with multiple sclerosis
Marine Corps veteran Alex Benoit spent four years on active duty before noticing that something with his body just wasn’t right.
It started with his eyesight. A visit to the doctor left Benoit with a basic diagnosis of double vision. But shortly thereafter, while undergoing his physical fitness test, Benoit discovered that what he once was particularly skilled at – doing pull-ups – was suddenly a significant challenge. He could only do three.
“I had two seizures, and I knew something was going on,” Benoit says. “I was about to graduate college and get married, and then my eyesight got really bad.”
Benoit was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), and while the diagnosis left him devastated, he set out determined not to let it stop him from pursuing his dreams. He got off active duty, finished his college degree and immediately began searching for a job.
US Marine veteran Alex Benoit is joined by Texas PVA members on the slopes in Snowmass Village, Colo., during the 2015 NDVWSC. Photo by Christopher DiVirgilio
“I got a job one month after I graduated from college, and I did it for as long as I could,” says Alex, who worked in environmental database systems and programming. “It was at that point that I felt hopeless, but that’s when Paralyzed Veterans of America stepped in and assured me that my MS was service-connected. I was too blind to realize and accept that because I wanted to do everything myself.”
MS is a complex disease that destroys connections in the central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord. It is a chronic and often disabling disease with varying periods of relapses and remissions, making the disease extremely unpredictable. There are approximately 400,000 Americans who have MS, and the Department of Veterans Affairs currently serves about 40,000 veterans with the disease for which there is no cure.
Benoit remembers the difficultly adjusting to the fact that he would not be able to work again. He recalls the dark days of feeling hopeless, and despite deep love for his wife and two daughters, wondering whether there was any opportunities on the outside that would help him feel fulfilled once again.
“Everything was fine only until I stopped working,” Benoit says. “I don’t know whether it was the illness or how hard of a blow it was, but I took it hard. That was until Paralyzed Veterans of America came again and helped in having all the brotherhood and sisterhood. Being involved in the events and meetings gives me a purpose.”
Benoit began attending monthly meetings of the Texas chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America and became involved with fishing and shooting events. In 2014, he attended his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia, and the 2015National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo.
“Staying in contact with the members feels so good,” Benoit says. “And participating in the Wheelchair Games and rolling out with the team and your state, it was electric.”
It was the exposure to adaptive sports in which Benoit discovered a new passion for winter sports, particularly skiing. Not only is it an activity he can share with his fellow veterans, he’s especially proud to share it with his family. Each year, he and his family take a ski trip to Grand Junction, CO.
It’s more than the personal fulfillment that sports and other events have brought; it’s also about the opportunity to share and mentor others who are faced with similar circumstances.
“I always tell people, even if they don’t have MS, that we all have our own mountain to climb,” Benoit says. “It may take a year, it may take five years, but keep climbing that mountain because eventually you will climb it. Everyone is different, but your day of acceptance will come. Keep climbing.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist, whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.
You may remember seeing Benoit during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games: