Tom Mahany started a hunger strike on Veterans Day 2009 lasting 29 days to draw attention to the issue of combat stress and related suicide. He fasted again in August of 2012, this time for 17 days, when he learned that the number of suicides among active duty service members 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 of posttraumatic stress injury.
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
Honor for ALL is responsible for initiating the first governmental resolution of its kind designating Post-traumatic Stress Injury Awareness Day
Adopted concurrently by the House and Senate of the State of Michigan, June 23, 2014:
June 27, 2014, is designated ‘‘Michigan Post-traumatic Stress Injury Awareness Day’’
Whereas the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces, who proudly serve the United States, risk their lives to protect the freedom of the United States and deserve the investment of every possible resource to ensure their lasting physical, mental, and emotional well-being;
Whereas more than 2,000,000 United States service members have deployed as part of overseas contingency operations since the events of September 11, 2001;
Whereas the military has sustained an operational tempo for a period of time unprecedented in the history of the United States, with many service members deploying multiple times to combat zones, placing them at high risk of post-traumatic stress injury (referred to in this preamble as “PTSI”);
Whereas it is expected that ten thousand veterans will return to the State of Michigan every year for the next three to five years after spending a significant amount of time in combat environments, exposing thousands of soldiers to traumatic life threatening events;
Whereas the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that in fiscal year 2012, more than 500,000 veterans from all wars sought care at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center received treatment for PTSI;
Whereas PTSI significantly increases the risk of depression, suicide, and drug and alcohol related disorders and deaths;
Whereas the Department of Defense and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs have made significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of PTSI and the symptoms of PTSI, many challenges remain; and
Whereas the establishment of a Michigan Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Awareness Day will raise public awareness about issues related to PTSI:
Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the (Senate/House) —
(1) designates June 27, 2014, as ‘‘Michigan Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Awareness Day’’;
2) urges the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency and The Adjutant General to continue working to educate servicemembers, veterans, the families of servicemembers and veterans, and the public about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of post-traumatic stress injury; and
(3) respectfully requests that the –(Sec of the Senate/Clerk of the House)– transmit a copy of this resolution to the governor of the State of Michigan.