One of the biggest road blocks to recovery for many veterans is getting past the stigma of asking for help. It’s tough enough when you clearly have a visible injury, after so many physical training sessions or field training exercises with your first sergeant encouraging you to push through the pain and “toughen up.” But when it’s an injury that cannot be seen on the outside, it’s more challenging to mentally grab the strength needed to ask for help.
I’ll never forget breaking my big toe while serving overseas. Silly, I know; with just a bandage around it, the small yet painful injury wasn’t apparent to passersby, fully hidden by steel-toed work boots. I felt guilty when chow hall workers helped me carry my lunch tray while it didn’t really look like I needed it. That temporary “boo-boo” is long gone. Still here and still unseen though, are the deep and painful wounds traumatic brain injury (TBI) victims continue to endure.
One TBI survivor, retired Army Major Ben Richards, was finally recognized with the Purple Heart Sunday at “D.C. Stands for the Troops,” at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. The evening of music and comedy, benefitting the non-profit Stand for the Troops’ Rescue Coalition, began with retired Army General Peter W. Chiarelli presenting Richards with the award recognizing the not-readily-seen wounds he received due to concussions suffered from repeated head injuries while in Iraq in 2007.
Chiarelli has long worked to reduce suicide rates in the Army, going so far as to drop the word “disorder” from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD has stood in the military, but not in the medical community overall. Some psychiatrists and Chiarelli have adopted “post-traumatic stress injury.”
Whatever the term, conquering the mountain of stigma that stops vets from seeking help is the first step. Before their calming tune, “Guinevere,” Robin Batteau, of folk duo Buskin and Batteau, compared the famous “I am Spartacus” movie scene to all veterans stepping into a shrink’s office, so there will be no more stigma associated with getting help.
Other performances included soulful songs by Tom Prasada-Rao and Les Paul-tinged vocal and instrumental jazz grooves from the Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub duo. After intermission, the audience had a laugh break from Saturday Night Live alum Jim Breuer, who performed his famous “goat boy” and other impressions, but won over vets of all ages with funny tales of taking care of his aging father, a World War II veteran.
The evening finished with a long set by Michael and Kevin Bacon, The Bacon Brothers. Kevin is well known as the subject of the movie trivia game, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” but more apropos to this evening were his silver screen roles including A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, and the HBO drama Taking Chance, about a Marine who escorted a fallen Marine’s body to his hometown from the Iraq War. This pro bono appearance was a fantastic opportunity to catch them before their two scheduled June performances in Alexandria, one of which is already sold out.
Awareness of the long-term effects of TBI has grown in the Army lately. To see just how serious the current Vice Chief of Staff of the Army takes this issue, take a look at our Q&A in the current issue of Ground Combat Technology. ♦