Seeking help for PTSD a sign of strength

Photo of Soldiers in combat gear

Sgt. Thomas James Brennan, center, leading the Third Platoon, Fourth Squad of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines, in Helmand Provice in February 2011. Sgt. Brennan wrote a piece in the New York Times about his own struggle with PTSD. Photo courtesy of nytimes.com.

To mark the third annual National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta paid a visit to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and published a letter in the local newspaper, recognizing the unseen wounds of war and urging Service members to get the help they need.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a cost of war that has been paid by generations of America’s veterans,” Secretary Panetta writes. “At the Department of Defense, we believe the unseen wounds of war are every bit as pressing—and every bit as treatable—as the visible wounds that have left a permanent physical mark on thousands of our heroes. While we have made great strides in treating wounds from IED blasts and bullets, we still struggle with the scale of unseen injuries caused by combat stress and their manifestation in substance abuse, depression, relationship issues, and suicide. But steadily, we are developing a strategy to confront this challenge.”

National PTSD Awareness Day was established by Congress in 2010 to promote public understanding of the issues facing many returning Service members and veterans. It was originally proposed by Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to honor North Dakota Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Joe Biel, who took his own life following two tours in Iraq. Joe’s birthday was June 27.

In a statement quoted by the Washington Post blog, Senator Conrad said, “National PTSD Awareness Day should serve as an opportunity for all of us to listen and learn about post-traumatic stress and let all our troops—past and present—know it’s okay to come forward and ask for help.

In his written piece, Secretary Panetta also stressed the importance of seeking help, and outlined steps the Department of Defense is taking to make that process easier. Some of those steps include training commanders and officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD; expanding access to quality behavioral and mental health care, including embedding behavioral health professionals into line units; reviewing the PTSD screening process; reducing knowledge gaps in patient history for Service members moving to health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs; and enlisting all Americans to address the stigma of getting help.

“We want our entire Military family—those serving today and those who have served in the past—to know that seeking help is a sign of strength and inspiration for others to do the same,” Secretary Panetta wrote.  “We ask all Americans to join us in helping to protect those who have fought to protect us.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD, please visit www.ptsd.va.gov, www.realwarriors.net,  or www.nrd.gov to find resources in your area that can help.