National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day
Every day men and women are deployed to war zones to protect our values and freedoms. For close to 10 years, I worked in the Middle East on issues affecting US national interests. Every day that I was in Iraq I saw the dedication these men and women made to serve our country. I could not be more thankful for the sacrifice and devotion of their families. They take care of the home front so their loved ones can protect our country.
Since announcing my candidacy for the state Senate, I have had numerous conversations with veterans in our community. It is an honor and privilege to speak with these committed and decorated men and women. What I have learned from these conversations is that we train our soldiers for battle, but not for integration back into civilian life. Their wives, husbands, and partners tell me over and over their loved ones come home “changed.” They describe loved ones as always “revved up,” disconnected from personal and professional relationships, experiencing nightmares, or avoiding crowded spaces.
For those who don't know, those are some signs of PTSD or posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD can occur after serving in a war zone or experiencing significant stress after a traumatic event. For these families, there are no trainings to help identify symptoms of PTSD, no trainings to understand and help their loved ones, and no trainings to identify when their loved ones are in distress and need immediate help.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that veterans with PTSD are more likely to show signs of depression, to drink alcohol to excess, or to be addicted to drugs. The VA also states that among active-duty members of the armed forces, 19.9 veterans per 100,000 will commit suicide. In 2008, the Rand Corporation published a study projecting that veterans with PTSD and major depression will cost the United States upwards of $6 BILLION. Many of the veterans and families I speak with don’t trust the VA or feel stigmatized using their services. They tell me stories of, or explain their fear of, being dishonorably discharged for showing signs of PTSD. Instead, they hide their symptoms and go unserved. Our veterans and their families DESERVE better, and we can DO better.
The Massachusetts Department of Veterans Affairs needs to implement a program to offer outreach to veterans and their families pre and post-deployment. Vermont has implemented a similar program with their National Guard and has found it highly successful. Such a program could educate and support veterans and their families; helping them access health and mental health services, support the veterans’ families while deployed, and ensure veterans and their families reconnect and integrate back into their communities.
Shortly after taking office, I will dedicate myself to creating a program that supports veterans and their families pre and post-deployment.
Massachusetts should educate and train behavioral and mental health professionals, medical staff, and first responders to identify a veteran in distress and determine if they have PTSD. Asking "are you a veteran?" at intake could provide a lens for understanding their experiences or divert the veteran from entering the criminal justice system. If a veteran is in the criminal system, they should have access to a Veteran's Treatment Court. At present, Berkshire County does not have such a court, and the closest one is operated through Holyoke District Court.
I will work to have this service provided in Berkshire County. Veterans deserve the chance to stay out prison and receive the support they are owed for their service to our country.
Creative approaches to helping veterans and their families are needed. Some programs focus on elevating the veteran's ability to recover through proper nutrition and a comprehensive approach to health. This is not traditional therapy and has been shown to help veterans with PTSD, depression, and other ailments. Currently, such programs do not receive state or federal assistance. However, this program should be offered statewide.
- I will partner with local programs and the Massachusetts Departments of Veterans Affairs and Human Services to implement such resiliency programs.