More than 2.7 million military men and women have served in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
For many of our veterans, their homecoming is filled with joy and relief even if they return with devastating physical injuries.
But for others, the return home is the beginning of a new battle … a battle with themselves as they fight the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
June is PTSD Awareness Month and it’s up to all of us to help our veterans find a light through the darkness of PTSD.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following any life-threatening event. Combat veterans experience PTSD at almost twice the rate as the general population. It is the most common mental health challenge faced by our veterans according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans battling PTSD often feel lost and alone. They experience nightmares and flashbacks; they have difficulty sleeping; they feel estranged, depressed, numb. Veterans with PTSD find it hard to function in society or in a family, they have occupational problems, marital problems, parenting problems, and family discord. More than half of men with PTSD have problems with alcohol. Veterans with PTSD have more unemployment, divorce or separation, and spousal abuse. Many don’t or can’t get treatment. Many military families suffer as well as they try and cope with the effects of the disorder in their loved one.
It is devastating to the veteran and those who love him or her.
I should know. PTSD forever destroyed a part of my life when I lost my son — Army Pfc. Kyle Marshall Farr — to PTSD in 2009.
Kyle returned from Iraq with a sense of hopelessness and confusion. For five months he received treatment from the VA for PTSD only to be discharged with instructions to self-medicate. The day after he was discharged from the hospital, Kyle was found dead from an overdose. He was only 27 years old.
Kyle’s death plunged me into my own personal hell and there wasn’t anything that could deaden my pain. I grieved for my son and I cursed the lack of safety net resources for veterans like Kyle.
From the darkness in my own life I made a vow not to let Kyle’s death be forgotten. I would dedicate the rest of my life to helping our veterans and their families battle this terrible disorder. I wanted to help them find hope and healing, I wanted them to have permission to start dreaming again.
From my pain, the Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation was created in 2011. Remarkably, I found many people in the community who wanted to help. Since 2011, we have raised more than $250,000 to support alternative-therapy programs that have life-changing success for veterans and their families.
We started small with the now-famous RACE For a Soldier. This year, we will organize the SWING for a Soldier golf tournament in July; the PULL for a Soldier trap shoot tournament in September; the FLAG for a Soldier flag football tournament in December; and the Prayer Breakfast fellowship event in September.
Also in September we will take a big step here in the Pacific Northwest with our first NW Passage Retreat, which incorporates a proven therapy that originated, and is currently being used, by the award-winning and nationally recognized Boulder Crest Retreat in Virginia. The Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes) is the nation’s first non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth amongst our national’s combat veterans. This 18-month program begins with an intense seven-day therapy retreat and we will host this retreat for the first time in Washington state.
In 2011, after the first RACE for a Soldier, someone asked me “Why a race? What are you running for?” My dear friend, Capt. Frank Hill, answered the question much better than I could and his words form the basis of our foundation:
“We run to give name to unnameable entrenched emotion. To share the burden of the weary and carry the weight they have carried for us... We run to remind them they are worth running for; to remind them they are the everlasting inherently good… We run to remember, to never forget. We run for each and every one of them. We run to walk them all the way home. We run for Kyle.”
I’ve heard the statistic that less than one percent of Americans serve in the military. That means very few of us have any real understanding of what our veterans experience and the sacrifices they make for us. I believe it is the responsibility of the rest of us — the 99 percent — to support our veterans any way we can.
I urge you to get involved: register for one of our events, make a donation, or volunteer to help. Join us as we fight PTSD and give our veterans permission to start dreaming again.
Gig Harbor resident Leslie Mayne is the founding director of the Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation.