By Senator Patty Ritchie
It’s one of the most selfless jobs a person can do: serving your country as a member of our Armed Forces.
What many people don’t realize though, is that for many soldiers, the dangers don’t end when they return home from a deployment.
Recent studies have shown that as many as 12 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental health condition that can be caused by exposure to a traumatic event.
It doesn’t only affect soldiers, but can impact anyone who witnesses or experiences a scary incident or event, such as child abuse or a violent crime. Persons suffering from PTSD are six times more likely to commit suicide.
Last week, the Army took a day to “stand down” and focus on suicide prevention. It was an opportunity for Army brass to educate and inform soldiers about health services, soldier-fitness and suicide prevention resources available to them.
The overall message: soldiers should never be too afraid to ask for help.
I’m also trying to help.
As part of this year’s state budget, I secured funding for a pilot program to help returning veterans cope with PTSD.
It’s called the PFC Joseph Dwyer Peer Support Program for Veterans, and it’s named for a soldier from New York who enlisted following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and took his own life after returning home from Iraq.
The program, which is being administered by Jefferson County Community Services, will begin in November.
The funding is available to only four counties Jefferson, Suffolk, Rensselaer and Saratoga.
As home to the largest Army post in the Northeastern US, with one of the Army’s most deployed units, the 10th Mountain Division, Jefferson County seemed a perfect fit for this new program, which aims to give soldiers the help they need to transition back into civilian life following deployment.
The peer support program gives veterans a chance to interact with others who may be experiencing the same emotions and challenges caused by stress from combat and wartime service.
Military life isn’t always easy. But with the support of communities and people back home, things can be made easier for the men and women of our Armed Forces who sacrifice so much for us.
If you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or if you would like to learn more, you can visit a special page on the Veterans Administration’s website: www.ptsd.va.gov