Voices of Change

– by Shawn Graves, AW2 Soldier and Advocate –

I was asked to do a blog because of my unique experiences and perspectives. I am an AW2 Soldier who became an AW2 Advocate. I have been able to do some great things over this past year that I never thought would happen. It wasn’t all by my accord. I didn’t plan this. People involved in my life and well being voiced or suggested which way I should go or what I could do, and what I was capable of. Voices spoke up and said the right things to change my life. I didn’t realize the power that one voice could have until January of this year when I attended the AFAP conference in Washington DC. Then I started to think about the voices of change in my life more and realized just how powerful it can be to voice something.

One year ago I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do with my life.  That changed when I went on a stress recovery retreat last year. I didn’t realize that I was struggling with my PTSD until someone spoke up and pointed out that I would benefit from this trip.  What an eye opener!  I decided after that trip that I wanted to do something to help Veterans. I wanted to be that voice and make a difference for someone else, so they could benefit like I did. That something was the hard part to figure out.  I talked quite a bit with my local Veterans Outreach Center about possibilities of volunteering, public speaking, and started to take more interest in Veteran organizations.

My AW2 Advocate and I had been talking about this symposium that was coming up.  She liked the issues I talked about that needed addressed and encouraged me to submit my issues and apply as a delegate.  I was surprised when one of my issues was selected and I was selected as a delegate. I was impressed when I attended the AW2 Symposium. I was so happy to have the opportunity to be that voice of change. It was hard and rewarding work and I got to meet some great people too. It was also very rewarding to know that my issue, though reworded was selected as a top issue to be sent to this AFAP conference. Then I heard that an AW2 Advocate position was opening in my hometown. My Advocate started encouraging me to apply, and even sent the listing to me. I dragged my feet, made excuses, but finally my advocate said “Just apply and see what happens”.  I submitted my resume the last day of the opening. Well, what happened was I got hired.  It’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Again, it was someone who voiced there opinions and convinced me to do it.

I attended the 2009 AFAP conference as a retired Soldier. Having had some time under my belt as an advocate and so recently attending the AW2 Symposium, I came into the conference ready to tackle issues. I was pleased to see several AW2 issues there, including mine. During the first day we did an issue review within our group. I had read ahead and had my mind pretty much made up as to what I thought was important. Then an issue came up that I thought was not a priority, and it seemed I wasn’t alone on this. The issue was TDY for Bereavement.  Just as we were getting ready to move on, someone stated “if you can take TDY to search for a house, why not for bereavement”. All of the sudden, that issue was top issue in our group and was the number one issue voted on at the conference and will be briefed at the General Officer Steering Committee this April. WOW!! One voice again.

I bring this all up at a key time. AW2 Symposium is fast approaching. Now is a really good time to start creating those issues, putting the effort into making strong, and well read statements. The voice you have will surprise you. It is amazing to see how fast you can change opinions and change lives for everyone. Become a delegate. It makes a huge difference to have many voices looking at many issues. You may think your point of view and your issues are important, but you will be surprised to see how quickly something can change your mind. Be that voice of change and it can change lives, just like those voices changed mine.

Shawn Graves
AW2 Advocate
Spokane, WA

Veterans’ Court

– by Michael Clark, AW2 Advocate –

AW2 Soldiers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania that find themselves in court may soon find themselves in a “Veterans’ Court” rather than a traditional court room.

As an AW2 Advocate, I certainly hope that our Soldiers would avoid placing themselves in situations where they would have to answer to a judge; however, there are times when AW2 Soldiers are struggling with their transition and inadvertently find themselves going to court.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Alcohol and Drug Addiction are common problems that plague our Soldiers.  Even though services to combat these problems are available through the VA, sometimes these issues impair a Soldier’s judgment and they find themselves in trouble with the law prior to or as a result of their combat related experiences.

The Veterans’ Court initiative will provide Soldiers experiencing legal setbacks to appear before a court specifically designed to offer counseling and medical treatment in lieu of jail time for misdemeanor offenses.  Veterans’ Court is being designed for non-violent offenders whose violations are a result of mental illness, PTSD or substance abuse.

Veterans’ Court plans on debuting in Allegheny County in June 2009.  While the new system is not designed to protect veterans, it will be an opportunity for Soldiers to get the help that they need to address the condition that impaired their judgment.

AW2 SGM’s Interview on Blog Talk Radio

On December 4, Blog Talk Radio interviewed AW2’s own SGM Jurgersen about the Army program he supports, as well as recent changes that include expanded criteria and a rise in PTSD injuries.  He even shares a bit about his own story – including his troop’s nickname for him.  Click here to listen to or download the interview from Blog Talk Radio.

PTSD is Real

– By SGM Brent Jurgersen, AW2 Sergeant Major –

This past month something happened in AW2 that many of us had been expecting for quite some time. For the month of August, the number of AW2 Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD surpassed the number of AW2 Soldiers with amputations, becoming the most prevalent injury of AW2 Soldiers.

Although this is a significant statistical mark, it means so much more. Because behind every number that is counted, there is a Soldier and a family that is affected. Like many of you, I have seen the effects that PTSD can have on our Soldiers and families. I have seen veterans with PTSD lose their jobs, lose their homes, and even their families. I have seen them abuse prescription drugs, alcohol and illegal drugs. I have seen them have trouble with the law, tell stories of nights without sleeping, nightmares, difficulty in heavy traffic, lack of concentration and being generally irritable. I have seen our Soldiers experience difficulty in crowded places, exhibit hyper vigilance and jumpiness. I have heard the families tell stories about their Soldiers, describing outbursts of anger, being emotionally numb, detached, and depressed. Most recently, I have seen a couple of our veterans who were not able to overcome their struggles with PTSD, and thought death was their only option, and eventually took their own life.

PTSD is real and it does not get better without proper treatment and care.

Unfortunately, many of our Soldiers and veterans with PTSD don’t seek out the treatment they need. Some resist treatment because they’re worried what others will think or they believe that they should be able to get over the problem on their own. For many, they are not ready to face the trauma and the strong emotions associated with it.

There is help out there for those suffering from PTSD; there are options out for care and treatment. I have seen Soldiers and veterans with PTSD get the help they need, get better, and live happy, productive, and meaningful lives. But to get there, they had to take that difficult first step of seeking help.

During my site visits, I always inquire about services available for Soldiers with PTSD. I have seen vast improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD for all Soldiers and retired veterans. However, I also have to admit that our country has a lot more to learn about PTSD and how to properly treat and care for our Soldiers and veterans who suffer from it.

I want to tell you about a veteran I met a couple of weeks ago while touring a Combat Trauma Facility designed for PTSD. I share this experience in hopes that others may read this and seek help, whether it is for yourself or a loved one. This veteran was not an AW2 Soldier; in fact, he was not even a Soldier, but a retired Marine. As the psychologist was showing us around we came across several veterans watching TV in a common area. Their eyes lit up as they saw my uniform and we talked for quite awhile. One of them said, “after 40-years, she broke me down like a …” Although, I cannot remember the exact word he used, I think you can get the point. He was referring to the psychologist who uses Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy to treat her patients with PTSD. As I shook his hand, I looked him in the eyes and saw “the look” I see in so many of our young veterans eyes, an indescribable stare associated with PTSD. But this time, I caught a glimpse of something else. I saw a sign of hope, a sign of peace, and a tear forming and rolling down his cheek

I left that day not being able to get this ole Marine out of my head. I kicked myself for not giving this veteran a hug, a hug of compassion, an embrace of respect. I wonder what drove this veteran to a point, where after 40-years, he finally sought help. Was it periods of unemployment, broken relationships, substance abuse, trouble with the law, tired of not sleeping, tired of the dreams, tired of not feeling right, what was it? Why did it take so long? Regardless, all I can say is good for him, as after 40-years, he looked at peace, at peace with himself and others.

I only hope that our veterans of this generation seek the help they need. I hope they don’t wait 40-years. I hope they don’t wait 1-year, or even 1-month, as any period of time without help is too long.

I encourage our Soldiers and families to get the help that they need and deserve, to use the available resources out there, and to reach out to people who can assist them. You owe it to yourself and your family.

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