A 36-year-old Iraq war veteran was being treated for traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and back injuries with more than 27 different medications when he died unexpectedly, according to his mother.

Paul Gardner, of Billings died on March 3, 2011 from complications related to injuries he sustained in Iraq after a rocket attack on his base, said Claire Gardner, of Seattle.

She blames the pills — and the VA for the complications.

“It seemed like all they were doing was overmedicating him,” Claire Gardner said. “They were treating the symptoms with pills and covering up the real problems.”

She is concerned that other veterans are also being overmedicated. That is why she has put up $5,000 in seed money to jump-start the Paul Gardner Veterans Relief Foundation to give veterans non-narcotic options for rehabilitation and relief from chronic pain.

“The Foundation will allow veterans and their families the opportunity to take a breath and a step back,” Gardner said.

The foundation was created in conjunction with Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic and Andrew Pearson Post 117, the third and newest post in the Billings area. It has an emphasis on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Many of its members are on active duty.

Donations to the Foundation will help veterans have the opportunity to experience a variety of non-narcotic methods to reduce pain, reduce dependency on pain medications and increase their quality of life, said Casey Jourdan, a member of the Foundation’s board of directors. She is also an Iraq war veteran, a Purple Heart recipient and member of Post 117. She and Gardner were also close friends. The program includes chiropractic treatments, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, regenerative injection therapy and specific exercise instruction by a certified trainer.

“When Paul passed, it shook me to the core,” said Jourdan, who has PTSD. “It’s in his memory that I feel I have to do what I can to support other veterans and hopefully prevent another tragic loss.”

Good pain management is reducing pain and increasing quality of life, Jourdan said, adding that holistic approach is required, beyond just pills. When the body is healed, the mind can also heal.

“As disabled veterans, recovering from our injuries, both physical and emotional, is more than just masking our symptoms,” Jourdan said. “It is about regaining a piece of ourselves.”

Margaret Beeson, who served in the U.S. Navy for four years as a medic, is the medical director and owner of Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic. Beeson said getting the Foundation established is answering a need among veterans.

“They are having a major problem with pain medication management and some are dying,” she said. “Some are accidentally overdosing; some are dying by suicide.”

Gardner retired from the Army in 2010 with more than 17 years of honorable service to his country. He was twice stationed in Korea and served a tour of duty in Iraq, where he earned the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Paul was a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, American Legion Post 4 and VFW Post 6774.


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