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'It started with nightmares:' A widow's message to veterans

Nashville mother shares husband's story on Veterans Day
Posted at 4:33 AM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 10:56:09-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As we honor our veterans Wednesday, we also need to remember that some are suffering silently. Studies show that as many as 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder.

It doesn't just affect the soldier. The trauma hurts the whole family.

Imelda Abeja and her toddler, Mateo, understand this too well.

Almost every month, they visit the ceremony where her husband, Eliasar Abeja, is buried.

Eliasar, or Eli as his family called him, was an Army veteran who earned medals for his service in Iraq and South Korea. He was part of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.

"He used to talk about how you know sometimes ironically, the war doesn’t kill you when your over there, but kills you when you come back," Imelda Abeja explained.

It started with nightmares, cold sweats and mood swings.

But after a long battle with PTSD, Eli passed away two years ago.

Imelda makes sure to celebrate her husband often. "Eli‘s favorite snack was popcorn so we set out popcorn for him with his favorite hot sauce," she said.

Eli's younger sister, Janet, remembers him as funny and passionate.

"He was unique. Unique and very special," Janet Abeja said.

But she said he came back from his deployments a more closed person.

They tried to seek help, but Imelda said it made Eli feel weak.

"There's so much taboo around it. People don't speak on it," she said.

She wants soldiers to know if they feel vulnerable, they are still honorable.

Veterans Affairs offers support for families, including a caregiver support hotline that you can call at (855) 260-3274. There is also a coaching hotline available at (888) 823-7458.