By Jill Lawrenz, MSW, NAMI Policy Intern
Tom Mahany started a hunger fast in 2009 to draw attention to posttraumatic stress (PTSD). He fasted again in 2012 when he learned that the number of suicides among veterans had doubled from June to July.
Now Mahany heads up the veterans’ advocacy group Honor for ALL, which organizes an annual event, Visible Honor for Invisible Wounds, to raise awareness about posttraumatic stress.
This year’s event recognized the passing of legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp designating June 2014 as National Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month. JB Moore, NAMI Manager for Military and Veterans Policy and Support, represented NAMI at the event.
Though usually held in Washington, D.C., Visible Honor for Invisible Wounds took place in New York City on Saturday, June 28, 2014 and was co-hosted by the Mental Health Association of New York City. The scope of the program was expanded to include first responders and victims of abuse.
The keynote speaker Staff Sergeant Ty Carter, who has struggled with PTSD, was the 2013 recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. When awarding the Medal of Honor, President Obama described SSgt. Carter this way, “He’s as tough as they come. And if he can find the courage and the strength to not only seek help, but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you.”
In addition to SSgt. Carter, officials included commissioners from the New York City police and fire departments, representatives from the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Navy; the Wounded Warrior Project; Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA); Service Women’s Action Network.
“It is reprehensible that an estimated 22 veterans take their lives each day”, declared JB in her remarks. “Posttraumatic stress is treatable. Let’s eradicate stigma!”
According to Mahany, “There was an unmistakable message from the event. Posttraumatic stress is an injury that needs to be accepted and honored as such. If we don’t attend to it, it will be allowed to progress into a disorder.”
Earlier this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 – introduced by U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization (NDAA) bill. If passed, this legislation will: (1) Require annual mental health assessments for all service members-Active, Reserve, and Guard; (2) Establish a working group between the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services; and (3) Require an interagency report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for improvement.
According to Mary Giliberti, NAMI’s Executive Director, “The National Alliance on Mental Illness strongly supports the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 and applauds Senator Donnelly for his recognition that suicide rates among active duty service members, National Guardsmen and Reservists are unacceptably high and in dire need of attention. This important piece of legislation advances NAMI’s goals of parity, accountability, collaboration and action.”
Honor for ALL is already at work organizing next year’s National Posttraumatic Stress Awareness activities. Events will be held in New York, Michigan, San Diego, and Indianapolis, all on Saturday June 27, 2015.
Tom Mahany believes the sure sign of true awareness about posttraumatic stress will be when Major League Baseball plays with purple bats for the month of June.
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