Specialist (Ret.) Shawna Barnes served in the U.S. Army as a Combat Medic as part of 3rd Infantry Division (ID) for just shy of four years. Originally from Iowa, Shawna grew up in a large military family. Both her parents served in the U.S. Army along with her uncle. Her great uncle and great grandfather on her father’s side both served in the U.S. Navy and her grandfather on her mother’s side of the family served in the U.S. Army Air Corps before it became the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
Shawna always knew she wanted to serve our country in some capacity. She chose to join the Army in honor of her family’s military service.
While on a deployment in 2010 to Forward Operating Base Kalsu in Iraq, Shawna was exposed to open burn pits, a common waste disposal practice at military sites outside the U.S. During her seventh month of the deployment, she began to experience unexplainable seizures and other symptoms. Post the deployment, Shawna was able to get some answers to her unexplained conditions and was diagnosed with a neuromuscular autoimmune disease known as Myasthenia Gravis.
While in Iraq, Shawna fell and injured both her head and lower back as results of the once unexplained seizures. Most of her other injuries were neurologically based, such as cervical dystonia.
Since much of her illnesses were unexplained for so long, Shawna struggled in a number of ways. She had unexplained weakness and used a wheelchair to be able to complete daily living activities. She feels like it was a “constant fight” to be listened to while receiving treatments. She said most of her symptoms were attributed to her diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), partially from military sexual trauma.
It was not until Shawna experienced drooping in her right eyelid along with struggling to eat without choking that her disability was taken seriously by medical professionals. All these struggles contributed to Shawna’s depleting self-worth and believing that she was a burden to those around her.
After Shawna medically retired from the Army, she was homebound while a course of treatment was decided upon. It was when she had an “aha” moment, she began to believe she had self-worth and could still participate in the daily activities of life.
She has had constant support from her immediate family and gained support from friends and those in her unit once her condition was explained more and research was provided.
“My husband is my biggest supporter,” Shawna says. “[He] always pushes me to work toward my goals in any way I can.”
Both Shawna and her husband, Justin, attended the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat during winter a few years ago; they have also participated in a virtual Retreat during the COVID-19 pandemic. While at the Retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine, she made fly fishing lures, enjoyed a massage, visited an area botanical gardens, made flower arrangements, crafted gnomes and painted mason jars.
“It was fun to participate in a creative event that I wasn’t leading or teaching,” she said.
Since attending the Travis Mills Foundation Retreat, Shawna has returned several times, most recently as a volunteer – she led classes in painting ceramic ornaments. She said it makes her feel “proud” to help other recalibrated veterans find passion in a creative outlet that is adapted to fit their needs.
Shawna sums up her experiences with the Travis Mills Foundation with one word – “amazing.”
“Whether I am teaching or participating,” Shawna said, “I always leave feeling a sense of joy, peace and fulfillment.”
Travis Mills Foundation is thankful for Shawna’s honorable and selfless service to our great country.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth. Learn more >>> www.travismillsofundation.org.