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Monday, December 08, 2008

Talking Post Trauma Blues: Will Obama Make PTSD a Household Name?

One of my favorite female OIF vets, Abbie Pickett, shared the following video on her facebook page. (If you're a frequent reader of PTSD Combat and wish to connect with me via my facebook account, you're invited to do so; I frequently post PTSD-related content via that channel when I'm pressed for time -- which is often when my semesters are in full-swing).

The video is for a song called "Talking Post Trauma Blues."

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Meanwhile, Colleen Perry writes over at Huffington Post today:

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may not be a "household name" yet, but it soon will be. As our combat veterans return from Afghanistan and Iraq, we will be inundated, as a country, with cases of PTSD and TBI, traumatic brain injury. ...

I can tell you from personal experience that the symptoms of PTSD affect not only the soldier, but their entire family, their friends and often, their employers. Some of you may remember when the U.S. invaded Panama in the early 1990's. Most of you have probably forgotten that little skirmish, but select special forces troops like the Army Rangers were sent in. My brother, Jamie, was among them. He and others parachuted under the cover of darkness into the jungle.

After his return, my brother was never the same. He experiences bouts of uncontrollable anger which have contributed to the dissolution of most of his personal relationships, including ours. In addition, he suffered some profound changes to his personality, as though his moral compass went missing. After being lied to and stolen from by him on many occasions, I made the heartbreaking decision to eliminate contact with my brother. My father and the three mothers of his three children have made the same choice. My mother continues to believe in him and tries to help him whenever he is in trouble, which is often.

This in and of itself has caused a tremendous strain on my relationship with her. As you can see, there isn't a member of his family that hasn't been impacted by his untreated PTSD, including his children. I truly wish that love alone were enough to heal his pain.

Each story (and there are so many of them), so painful. Continuing:

In the private sector there are wonderful organizations bringing their skills and talents to helping our combat veterans. One of them here in California is called The Soldiers Project of which I am a part. We are therapists, psychologists and social workers specially trained in treating PTSD who volunteer our time to seeing combat veterans in our offices. I am very new to this organization, and there have been many giving freely of their time for years now. But this is not enough.

We need a national commitment with money behind it to develop comprehensive treatment programs and education aimed at erasing the stigma of seeking therapy and treatment upon their return home. In our current state of economic crisis I fear these types of programs will be put on the back burner, but the way I see it is the cost of turning our backs on the needs of our military men and women, we are setting ourselves up for the same fallout that occurred after Vietnam, affecting millions of families and our society as a whole for generations to come. President-elect Obama, are you listening?

Obama, in fact, is listening...and has been doing.

Looking back over the past few years, one of the more exasperating elements of our national leadership has been the fact that they have failed to take the reintegration problems of our returning veterans seriously. They failed to ask society to help military families with their work once their loves ones returned home, and they failed to rally organizations already providing mental health care to hard-to-reach rural areas or jam-packed cities to come on board to assist the overwhelmed VA system.

Back in February 2006, I wrote a piece called, "Unutterable: For Reagan it Was AIDS. For Bush, PTSD?" At the time, I'd searched the White House transcripts database to see how often administration leaders had referenced the term, and came up short.

Even today, I think I can count on one hand -- and perhaps have 4 digits left with nothing to do -- how often I've heard President Bush utter or discuss PTSD. Obama, refreshingly, doesn't seem to have a problem broaching the topic that directly concerns so many of our military families.

Why should it be sheltered and locked away, held inside four walls and the battered and bruised bodies and minds of countless veterans returning home from war?

No, at least at the outset, we are in good hands for a change.

In the Senate, Obama called for oversight when we learned that troops were being deployed, diagnosed w/PTSD and medicated for it, to the combat zone. Obama also called for an Army Mental Health Services investigation when it was reported troops at Fort Carson were being stigmatized and kept from seeking help for their PTSD and reintegration difficulties.

The Senator from my home state of Illinois also introduced the Lane Evans Act and the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, and supported other military-friendly legislation.

Obama also jumped in when he heard of the 22,000 OEF/OIF vets given personality disorder discharges perhaps in lieu of the PTSD they might instead have been suffering from (PD discharges strip their recipients of much of their VA healthcare benefits, leaving treatment of their possible PTSD symptoms to community service safety nets rather than the federal government).

When the press began digging deeply, reporting that OEF/OIF VA PTSD cases jumped by 20,000 in one year -- to over 50,000 officially diagnosed (a figure that exceeded the number of official wounded in action as reported by the Pentagon at the time), Obama was again there to demand the DoD release all of their data on the matter.

Judging by his comments on PTSD yesterday while presenting Shinseki as his choice for VA Head, we -- and our military families -- are in better hands now than we've been in years:

"For many of today's troops and their families, the war doesn't end when they come home," Obama said at a press conference in Chicago. But "far too few" are receiving the treatment they need to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he said. Obama pledged to cut red tape, eliminate budget shortfalls and help ease the transition back to civilian life for troops returning to a troubled economy.

"No one will ever doubt that this former army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans," Obama said of Shinseki. "He has always stood on principal because he has always stood with our troops, and he will bring that same sense of duty and commitment to insuring that we treat our veterans with the care and dignity that they deserve."

For his part, Shinseki promised to open new doors of opportunity for returning troops through the VA, which is the second largest US government agency after the department of defense. "Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service," Shinseki said.

"They deserve a smooth, error-free, no-fail benefits-assured transition into our ranks as veterans, and that is our responsibility. Not theirs."

There's a lot of work to do, no doubt about it.

But, for the first time in almost four years of following and reporting on this issue, I'm really hopeful. We have someone who cares about this issue at the very top. (It's also wonderful to know that the lady most intimate with the President, Mrs. Obama, says she will be aggressively taking up the cause of helping our military families.)

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