Gulf War veterans want early help for today’s soldiers
By MIKE BRANOM
Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. Americans serving in Iraq need assistance sooner than later in making the often-tough transition back to civilian life, an advocacy organization for veterans of Desert Storm said Friday.
At the National Gulf War Resource Center’s annual meeting, the emphasis was on early intervention for those having trouble coping after leaving the military. And a soldier’s support system must extend beyond his unit and family, into the community at large.
“We spend a lot of money in the military teaching people how to pull the trigger, said Steve Robinson, executive director of the Gulf War Resource Center. “But we don’t spend the money on what happens afterward.”
According to an Army study published last year, about 16 percent of soldiers and marines fighting the current insurgency in Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The disorder also affected veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.
But of those, only 40 percent are interested in seeking mental health counseling and even fewer actually sought help.
“When you’re an ‘Army of One,’ you’re not going to admit weakness,” said Lourdes Alvarado-Ramos, assistant director for the Washington state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Former Navy corpsman Charlie Anderson, 28, of Virginia Beach, Va., said he denied he had a problem after serving four months in Iraq, despite suffering nightmares, hypervigilance and an overeating problem that saw him gain 40 pounds.
Anderson only sought help after his wife found him cowering behind a couch on New Year’s Eve 2004, frightened by the celebratory fireworks set off by neighbors.
“The longer we wait, it festers and it gets worse. Then you end up with a situation where people are going to require so much more treatment than they would otherwise,” said Anderson, who now works with the group Iraq Veterans Against the War.
On the Net: National Gulf War Resource Center www.ngwrc.org