Sigman served as U.S. Army ranger


Sigman served as U.S. Army ranger

November 11, 2008

MOUNT VERNON — In August 1997, Jason Sigman began his venture in the U.S. Army. It was a chance to see the world, help his country and enjoy the great outdoors. He trained at Fort Benning, Ga., in the Alpha 1-50 Infantry 4th Platoon, and graduated in 1998.

A couple of years later, he started training to be a ranger. That was when his life changed.

One of his training exercises required him and his partner to follow a mapped course in the middle of the night with no flashlights. Sigman said he became distracted and when he resumed his course, he met with the edge of a cliff.

“I went off a cliff about 100 feet. It wasn’t that steep, but I know when I went down, they said if you fall like that to ride like you are skiing— have your back against the wall at an angle like you are skiing down the wall. My left foot got caught, which caused my body to jump off and twist, and it was at that point that my foot snapped,” he said.

His partner found him as Sigman was crawling out of the hole. Although he was hurt, he was determined to finish the course, no matter the pain he felt in his foot. The next day he was sent to a medical facility about two hours away. When he got there, he waited about an hour before they examined his foot and determined it was a sprain.

“If it was just sprained I would deal with it, but they started to give me extra tests,” said Sigman. “I went back [to training] so I wouldn’t get into trouble. I made it back 20 minutes before disqualification.”

Sigman knew the rules of his training, which were that he couldn’t be away from training for more than six hours; and with time limited, he didn’t want to lose his chance to graduate from the program.

“It hurt doing the rest of the time while I was in ranger school, but I made it,” said Sigman. “They still gave me my certificate of graduation, although I got hurt.”

But after nine months of missions and training exercises the pain in his left foot didn’t go away, it got worse.

“They did more tests on it and said it was broke; and it healed perfectly, except there was a bone splinter that got broken off into my nerve, and every time I walked it would splinter into my nerve,” he said.

Within a month he had surgery to remove the splinter, but so much nerve damage caused severe swelling in his foot.

“The doctor said it looked like [the scar tissue from the foot being so swollen], because the nerves were so swollen for being damaged so much, my skin actually healed through my nerves,” said Sigman.

After the first surgery, he felt much better.

In 2002, he left the military and was honorably discharged. He came home to Ohio to civilian life, and started working for a security company. But when the pain came back, working became hard, because his job required him to constantly patrol the facility.

“With the security company we had to do a lot of rounds where we had to walk, and it was hurting to walk too much. I ended up seeing the doctor a couple of times, and getting let go from my job because I couldn’t stand the walking,” he said.

During a second surgery, doctors removed 3 inches of damaged nerve in his foot.

“Every year it seems to be progressing, getting worse,” said Sigman.

For eight years he has suffered with the problem in his foot. Now he faces the worst — the possiblity of having his left leg removed, or trying other measures for help.

“First it was my foot, and now the doctors say the nerve damage is between my knee and my ankle; they say it is closer to my knee,” said Sigman.

As the nerve damage spreads, there is the possibility of reaching his spinal cord, he explained.

“One doctor says they can move my leg, which is looking more possible. I am just scared that if the nerve damage moves to my back — they say it is a possibility — it could paralyze me.”

After seeing several physicians, it was determined that Sigman suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, also known as complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic progressive disease characterized by severe pain, swelling and changes in the skin.

He has tried many forms of therapy to help with the pain, including a massage therapist and a chiropractor, and has seen several doctors.

Sigman said that throughout his troubles he has tried to keep a positive attitude and has not given up. He sent a letter to President George W. Bush in 2004 asking for further assistance. The White House office responded by sending his concern to the Department of Veteran Affairs, which has allowed him to attend classes at a local college. Those have been postponed for a time until further testing can be done on his foot, and a decision made as to a possible third surgery.

Through all of his troubles, he said, the hardest part has been getting enough help from the Veteran Association.

Last year, after being told by the Veterans Hospital that it could do nothing more for him, he called Congressman Zack Space’s office and spoke with the veteran coordinator.

“[The coordinator] called the V.A. Hospital and within two days they had me transferred to OSU medical facility,” said Sigman. “I’ve worked with the V.A. since 2003 after my last surgery; after that they have been giving me hassle after hassle.”

Sigman said he felt like something needed to be done, because of the severe pain in his foot and leg — with much activity he can’t stand for a period of time or walk for long without his foot swelling and causing pain — and because he hasn’t been able to work. He said it has been hard to balance his bills, uncovered medical costs and personal care on a small income of about $500 a month. Not being able to work has caused him financial debt, and he had to file for bankruptcy last year.

“It’s not that I don’t want to work,” Sigman explained, but because of the pain and the liability, no company is willing to hire him. “I have been let go from several jobs, before I was told that I couldn’t work anymore.”

Since 2005, as the pain progressed and it became harder and harder to work, a doctor at the veteran hospital rendered him “unable to perform any activity” because of his chronic foot condition. More recently, OSU Medical Center classified him as disabled.

“It took OSU Medical Center to say I was actually disabled. They said ‘able to return to work and school unknown. He remains totally disabled at this time,’” said Sigman.

But the V.A. is only paying for 40 percent of Sigman’s disability, and no more, even though he suffers from post-tramatic stress disorder and thyroid problems.

For the past couple of years he has applied and reapplied for further aid from the Veterans Association. His mother and father have been most supportive in this time of crisis and have assisted him in expenses.

Other than the accident that caused his injury, Sigman said he enjoyed his time in the Armed Forces, and particularly his time in ranger school.

“In ranger school I learned more than just taking orders,” he said. “Ranger school was really hard — you get four months of schooling, six months of pre-ranger school, and you get one meal a day and 30 minutes of sleep at night.”

He takes with him many memories of his experiences from his travels around the world. After 9/11 he was sent to Iraq; Sigman remembers his short time there, just south of Baghdad, working at a military airport loading and unloading military vehicles.

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