ONSLOW COUNTY - Retired U.S. Marine Felix Rivera suffered extensive injuries when his unit was attacked by a suicide bomber. It happened in March of 2009 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Rivera, a Gunnery Sergeant, was standing only 30 feet away from the car bomb when it detonated. Since the attack, Rivera has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TMI) and various other medical ailments.
"I consider the Navy and the Marine Corps a part of my family," said Rivera.
That's why it was difficult for Rivera to retire. But after a three-year struggle, he finally medically-transitioned out of the Marine Corps.
"It's just something that I hold near and dear to my heart, so it was hard for me," said Rivera.
Encouraged by his wife, Rivera enrolled in the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune's REACH program. REACH, which was implemented in November of 2011, stands for Reintegrate, Educate and Advance Combatants in Health Care. The goal of the program is to get health care jobs for wounded or sick Marines and Sailors.
Naval Hospital Spokeswoman Anna Hancock says the program targets those with a strong likelihood of receiving a 30% or more disability rating based on Department of Defense standards. Rivera is not only the first REACH graduate to be hired by the hospital, he's also the first to be hired in the country.
"I know some of the issues that I've been going through and that I have gone through, and I just want to have my hand in helping others get better," said Rivera.
Rivera is now a part-time Psychiatric Technician. He offered this advice for the other 24 wounded veterans currently in the REACH program.
"I think the biggest thing is not giving up on yourself and when things get hard, just continue to push."
If you are interested in mentoring or becoming a REACH student, call 450-3566 or 459-3493 for more information.