Pondering PTSD Progress

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Jessica Smith

The author speaking at the National PTSD Awareness Day gathering on Capitol Hill June 22.

The beauty of last Saturday morning, so close by the Capitol’s gleaming dome, made the incongruity of discussing post-traumatic stress disorder all the more startling.

But that’s what we were there to do by commemorating National PTSD Awareness Day.

Sufferers and those trying to cure them spoke out.

The star of the show was Jerry Yellin, 89, who had enlisted at 18 during World War II. He flew P-51 missions over Japan and lost 16 comrades before returning home, at 21, a changed man.

He recounted his personal experience as a sufferer of PTSD for 30 years, during a time when PTSD was not even clinically recognized. He was plagued by addiction, and drifted through life.

Finally, he discovered transcendental meditation, which allowed him to subdue his demons and begin to achieve some semblance of calm.

Speaker after speaker talked about PTSD, suicide, and the importance of getting help before it’s too late. Thomas Mahaney from the non-profit Honor for ALL organization hosted, with Dr. Maryam Navaie of Advance Health Solutions, a co-sponsor of the event, serving as emcee.

The repercussions of wars are already well-known. Still, it was deeply affecting to hear family members, including Kristy Kaufmann, Amber Wandtke (Mrs. Virginia 2013), and Gregg Keesling speak about the toll PTSD has taken on their families.

Dr. Eugene Lipov of Chicago Medical Innovations discussed stellate ganglion block, an anesthetic procedure, which he has found incredibly effective for the condition. “PTSD has been around for a very long time,” he said. “It has been viewed as a weakness of the soul, a psychiatric or mental disorder and the like. Those views have limited value when it comes to effective treatment, which is sorely lacking.”

I spoke of the discomfort many service members have with traditional treatments for PTSD or other mental health disorders, a recurring problem many of us dealing with hurting troops have witnessed. So I discussed complementary and alternative medicine, which is often an attractive and low-threat way of enticing service members to actually seek treatment.

Peter Duffy, a retired Army colonel who is now legislative director at the National Guard Association of the United States, highlighted the suicide rate in the Guard. The Guard had 96 suicides last year, generating the highest rate in the military.

Unfortunately, the efforts to understand and reduce suicides have been stymied by a lack of sufficient interest and funding. There have been detailed studies on active-duty suicides, but none on National Guard suicides of which I am aware.

One of the “low-hanging fruits” – meaning a relatively easy-to-hit target — is to have mental-health responders posted in Guard armories nationwide. Congress has approved the idea, but the funding, as is so often the case, has been slow to follow.

So the day was poignant, and uplifting, and disheartening, all at once.