Capitol Hill PTSD awareness event highlights struggles, triumphs

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 27, 2012) — Army wife Kristina Kaufmann knows the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder. She has lost three friends to suicide because of it. But she also knows the power she has to help stop it.

“As a commander’s spouse, I have the opportunity to use this tragedy as a way to open the dialogue,” Kaufmann said. “[I have the opportunity] to talk about mental health, to talk about depression, to talk about asking for help.”

Kaufmann is just one of many people associated with the military who have realized the impact post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, has had on Soldiers and civilians alike, and who are working to end the deaths that result from it.

The sergeant major of the Army and its surgeon general were among those who joined Kaufman today, speaking on Capitol Hill about the Army’s efforts to battle the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and other brain injuries.

The event, dubbed “Visible Honor for Invisible Wounds,” was geared toward addressing the stigmas attached to PTSD and remembering troops or family members who have committed suicide as a result of the disorder.

Kaufmann gave the dedication for the event by speaking about her own experiences with PTSD and the shame that is brought on by it. She explained how the term “new normal” is used to describe the reality of living in wartime, and how the normalization of wartime often leads to feelings of inadequacy or inability to cope.

“Nothing about ten years of war is normal,” Kaufmann said. “And when we can call it that, it can set the bar at an unattainable height. In effect, it says if you can’t live up to this new normal you’re weak, and that you’ve failed, and it adds to the stigma.”

Kaufmann’s theme of weakness and failure was echoed by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III, who gave the keynote address at the presentation. He spoke about coming close to death while in Iraq, and how that experience led to PTSD. At first, he said, he was too ashamed to admit that he struggled with the issue, but he eventually sought help.

“I spent about two years in almost-weekly behavioral health care counseling in Fort Bliss, Texas,” Chandler said. “And that care made a significant change in my life.”

Chandler’s personal experience with asking for help with PTSD was followed by Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho reporting on ways the Army is working to combat the disorder, and how those treatments can be effective.

Horoho said that in 2011, the Army spent $171 million on behavioral health support such as the counseling Chandler went through. She added that this year’s budget for the same treatments is now $181 million. The money is going toward developing new technologies like telebehavioral assistance for Soldiers both in Afghanistan and on U.S. soil.

Horoho stressed the point that these aids were also directed toward military family members, and how the Army recognizes that PTSD affects spouses and children in addition to the Soldiers themselves.

“What we’ve learned over these 11 years [at war is] that we not only need to treat the Soldier, but we have to treat the entire family,” she said. “They’re all affected by the stressors of war.”

Vietnam veteran Earl Kinard, who attended the event, gave a firsthand account of what living with PTSD is like, and how he is often reminded of the trauma of combat.

“Certain things like helicopters, like military situations that I see in films sometimes [trigger it],” he said. “As you get older, you try to hide it. When I came out of Vietnam, I tried to do the work instead of fretting about it [But] I’ve been through hell.”

For veterans like Kinard, the Army’s commitment to bringing the suffering associated with PTSD and related disorders to light seems to be a step in the right direction.

“The Army is doing good,” Kinard said. “The Army sees a problem and they try to solve the problem.”

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