DES MOINES - Iraq war veteran Andrew O'Brien recalls two, specific days when he made "mistakes."
One was the day in Afghanistan when he peered into the destroyed military police convoy truck to confirm the mangled dead. That was a triggering episode for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The other mistake was Nov. 22, 2010 when he decided to take his own life with a combination of prescription drugs, over the counter pills and alcohol.
O'Brien survived his suicide attempt and now wants to get the message out to veterans, active military servicemen, and families that there is hope and treatment for those with PTSD. On April 18 at 12:30 p.m. at the Iowa Capitol, O'Brien will join members of the Veterans National Recovery Center in sharing his story and introducing the national PTSD and TBI flag that is being unveiled to raise awareness of PTSD and TBI nationwide.
TBI stands for Traumatic Brain Injury and is sometimes a companion injury with PTSD. During the war it often came as a result of Improvised Explosive Devices.
"Did you know that 22 veterans and one soldier kill themselves a day?" asks O'Brien in his website video at www.wyshproject.org. "That's more than we're losing in war. So, the new war isn't overseas, it's right here at home with mental health."
According to VNRC President, Bob Krause, post war trauma is not new. The Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. identifies PTSD as a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
"Before we called it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it was called shell shock or battle fatigue," Krause said. "It is not a new health concern for veterans and those on active duty by any stretch of the imagination. What is new is the shocking number of men and women killing themselves each day as a result of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan."
VNRC and national veterans' coalitions will cooperatively roll out a new flag to recognize PTSD and traumatic brain injury on April 18. The goal is to fly the flag nationally boosting understanding of PTSD and encouraging servicemen to reach out for help.
"A stigma exists that a soldier is weak if he or she asks for help in addressing the symptoms of PTSD," Krause said. "Our country must be supportive of our servicemen asking for and receiving assistance to move forward with their lives."
O'Brien is the author of the book Welcoming Your Soldier Home. The book offers tips to family members as to how to recognize PTSD and how to get assistance for their soldier to address the affliction.
More about the rollout of the national PTSD and TBI flag can be seen at www.vnrc.us