Olga Tipton-Tucker’s call to serve her country has long been in her temperament — her dad served in the military for 23 years and she was surrounded by male figures who served as well.
As a result, when 9/11 happened it upped that call to service, but at the time she was still a minor. So in 2004 she enlisted in the U.S. Army, going into active duty until 2010, and serving in the army reserves until 2012.
As a combat veteran in Iraq, she planned, procured, coordinated and controlled the movement of personnel and personal property.
She was diagnosed with C-PTSD because of repeated trauma during her time in the Army and subsequently working for a high call volume EMS system.
C-PTSD occurs in people who have been subjected to ongoing traumatizing experiences, which led to the Department of Veterans Affairs issuing her a medical retirement in 2017.
This shift led her toward a different type of service — one in which she is now dedicating her life to helping veterans rise above mental health issues, just as she has been doing herself.
Whereas once she had dreamed of going to medical school, today she is working with a number of organizations that put veterans and mental health as part of their mission, with the goals of a greater sense of community and lowering veteran suicide.
Sometimes god can stop you in your tracks, she said.
“My main goal as a disabled veteran is to get out into the community and let other veterans know that there are resources for those who served,” Ms. Tipton-Tucker said. “I have always had the desire to serve, but sometimes life happens and causes us to feel a loss of purpose. My goal is to reach out to those veterans to help them find a new purpose. I want them to know that they have other service members to help pick them up and get them back into the fold.”
Ms. Tipton-Tucker has been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the veteran category.
The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.
Ms. Tipton-Tucker will be honored at an awards luncheon next year.
In partnership with the city of Peoria, Ms. Tipton-Tucker has also been interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.
Councilwoman Denette Dun said she admires Ms. Tipton-Tucker’s tenacity.
“She has overcome quite a bit. She serves in the Peoria Pine District, specifically helping veterans and serving the Peoria Chamber of Commerce,” Ms. Dunn said. “She has been an inspiration to me and to many individuals in our community.”
Since the beginning of the year, Ms. Tipton-Tucker has been dedicated to growing the Peoria Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee. Most recently, she spearheaded the Hero’s Flag Walk, which took place on Armed Forces Day, May 15, at Rio Vista Park.
“Olga represents the best of America, serving our nation in a foreign theater and returning despite her disability to make a difference in the lives of others. I am proud to know her and call her a friend of our chamber,” said Scot Andrews, president and CEO of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce.
Jeff Turney, military affairs committee chair, added that she routinely volunteers her time to assist other veterans in need.
“Although Olga suffers from PTSD, she does not allow it to define who she is as she continues to represent herself, her city, and our nation in a manner that makes us all extremely proud,” Mr. Turney said. “Olga will continue to serve our community after serving our nation for years to come.”
Ms. Tipton-Tucker is also active in the Recovery + Resiliency program at 22 Until None, a nonprofit that offers emergency financial assistance, help with VA benefits, help transitioning, as well as advocacy, wellness services, and camaraderie.
The organization takes a non-medicinal approach to healing from PTSD, with a mission to stop veteran suicide.
Chrystal Verrengia-Bushnell, vice president of 22 Until None, said Ms. Tipton-Tucker was in a crisis a couple years ago, but has grown immensely since then.
“She was at the bottom, sought help, and has been very public about her healing journey. She has taken every suggestion, tried outside-the-box options, and has shown the veteran community that healing is possible. She has spoken to many different veterans about her experiences, helping the veteran community to understand they can come back,” Ms. Verrengia-Bushnell said. “In my opinion as a resource provider, her story makes an even bigger impact because it fights the stigma of mental health help. She is an amazing person, and I’m glad to be her friend.”
Ms. Tipton-Tucker also offers her time to Operation Enduring Gratitude, which assists veterans and their families with house repair.
Steven Wilkerson has gotten to know Ms. Tipton-Tucker well and said she is one of the strongest people he has ever known.
“Olga has faced many challenges in her life, and she has still been able to balance being a mom, combat veteran, and her desire to serve others,” Mr. Wilkerson said. “As a combat veteran myself, I know the challenges we face of living with PTSD, and Olga has met those challenges head-on. She is always available to give a helping hand or a kind word to those around her. I’m thankful to have met her, and am proud to call her my friend.”
Through it all, Ms. Tipton-Tucker said her three children and the need to persevere has carried her through the difficulties in her life.
“As a single mom, I need to push forward and be best parent for my kids. That’s my motivation,” she said. “God has made sure to send people and programs to me that ensure my healing and allow me to be the support that my three kids need.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.
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