USA — ‘Real Warriors’ Campaign Works to Save Lives

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2010 — Mem­bers of the Defense Cen­ters of Excel­lence for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury “Real War­riors” cam­paign are work­ing to deliv­er the mes­sage that resources and tools are avail­able for vet­er­ans seek­ing treat­ment for invis­i­ble wounds of war.

“My mis­sion through the Real War­riors cam­paign is to let our non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers, enlist­ed per­son­nel and our offi­cers know that we can’t leave any­one behind in the field of bat­tle,” retired Army Maj. Ed Puli­do said dur­ing a Nov. 9 “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table.

Cen­ters of Excel­lence offi­cials launched the Real War­riors cam­paign to pro­mote build­ing resilience, facil­i­tat­ing recov­ery and sup­port­ing rein­te­gra­tion of return­ing ser­vice­mem­bers, vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. The pro­gram also works to com­bat the stig­ma asso­ci­at­ed with seek­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal health care and treat­ment.

Puli­do –- who lost a leg to a road­side bomb in Iraq in 2004 — said hav­ing post-trau­mat­ic stress doesn’t mean some­thing is wrong with you.

“There is no way the images of that day and the trau­mat­ic injury I received from that blast are going to go away,” he said. “But what we can do is under­stand it, live with it, and know that if you have any emo­tion­al episode about that expe­ri­ence, that it is healthy. It’s part of your heal­ing.”

Army Capt. Joshua Mantz of the Real War­riors cam­paign said the Defense Depart­ment, from Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates on down, has made incred­i­ble strides over the last few years to break down any bar­ri­ers asso­ci­at­ed with stig­ma, but it is up to ser­vice­mem­bers to make the step to come for­ward.

“It becomes a mat­ter of per­son­al pride,” he said. “No sol­dier wants to be injured, whether that wound is seen or unseen. Too many sol­diers and peo­ple are led to believe that [post-trau­mat­ic stress] is caused by see­ing blood and guts and gore on the bat­tle­field, and I can tell you that has very lit­tle to do with it.”

He said the part of post-trau­mat­ic stress that sticks with ser­vice­mem­bers tend to be “emo­tion­al burns,” and that too many are car­ry­ing that with them after expe­ri­enc­ing com­bat.

Often, he added, it takes fam­i­ly or friends to speak up to help them real­ize they have post-trau­mat­ic stress or oth­er invis­i­ble injuries of war.

“The family’s absolute­ly crit­i­cal,” he said, “because the spouse or the chil­dren can serve as the first line of defense in pick­ing up on some of the more sub­tle symp­toms.”

Puli­do not­ed that his wife rec­og­nized that he had trau­mat­ic brain injury after watch­ing a report on tele­vi­sion and asked him to go seek help.

“As hard as it was for me to admit that my mem­o­ry was gone in some regard, the cog­ni­tive skills that I was so well-versed in in the past were sus­pect,” he said, “I had to take that first step, and then I was diag­nosed with a trau­mat­ic brain injury.”

Puli­do said he believes many great resources are avail­able for ser­vice­mem­bers, and that the Real War­rior pro­gram is just one of them. Indi­vid­ual coun­sel­ing is the first step, he said, and find­ing peer-to-peer sup­port sys­tems also is impor­tant.

“I think that you also have to have [your] fam­i­ly do their own coun­sel­ing,” he said, and he added that for a holis­tic approach, group coun­sel­ing as a fam­i­ly is a good idea.

Ken Mac­Gar­rigle from the Vet­er­ans Affairs Department’s office for Iraq and Afghanistan vet­er­ans, added that VA has “vet cen­ters” that pro­vide indi­vid­ual, group and fam­i­ly coun­sel­ing to all vet­er­ans who served in any com­bat zone.

Mantz stressed the val­ue of build­ing resilience before ser­vice­mem­bers expe­ri­ence emo­tion­al dis­tress and giv­ing them the abil­i­ty to bounce back from adver­si­ty when it occurs in address­ing the prob­lem of mil­i­tary sui­cides.

“If we can build the resilience of our sol­diers … so that in the deep­est throes of their depres­sion, they pick up the phone instead of pulling the trig­ger, we’ve tak­en our first step towards vic­to­ry,” he said.

He added that it’s impor­tant for peers or fam­i­ly mem­bers to step in to help ser­vice­mem­bers who suf­fer from the invis­i­ble wounds of war.

“We as lead­ers need to reach out to our young sol­diers and prove to them that we gen­uine­ly care,” he said. “It’s all about per­sis­tence — lit­er­al­ly tak­ing that guy by the hand and deliv­er­ing him to the right per­son.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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