WASHINGTON, D.C. - In honor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D- W.Va., submitted a statement for the Congressional Record to thank veterans for their service, and bring renewed focus to addressing the mental health challenges many veterans face when they return from deployments.
In May, Rockefeller spoke with a group of West Virginia veterans about mental health during a roundtable in Parkersburg.
During that discussion, Tracy White told the story about the challenges her husband with severe PTSD and her family have faced, including not having access to health care despite her husband's service or his debilitating condition. Since that day, Rockefeller fought to secure benefits for the family.
Also during the course of the meeting, Casey Otey, wife of recently discharged soldier John Otey, said her husband had a diagnosis from the Army of anxiety while the Veteran's Administration said he had severe PTSD and asked why he was not being treated for PTSD. She said they tried to get it changed but the change is not in the records.
White, of Cross Lanes, W.Va., said her husband, Jerry, served in Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo and twice in Iraq. She added he saw his best friend die in an explosion as he took his picture.
"He came back a monster, a monster," she said. "He sets perimeters around the house, he checks all the lights, checks all the windows, checks surveillance cameras."
White added her husband spent his time cleaning his guns and making a hit list of those who did not retaliate for his friend in the National Guard.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense were there for our discussion in West Virginia, and I'm glad they were," Rockefeller said. "This has been the case for two of the veterans who courageously joined our discussion - both of whom had been fighting for the benefits we owe them.
"I vowed to do everything I could for them, and I celebrate today knowing that with our help their benefits have been approved, and they now have some measure of peace. But I don't rest - because there are thousands more veterans out there fighting and waiting for that good news."
Rockefeller said without the right care at the right time, things can start to spiral out of control for veterans with PTSD, including financial hardship, marital stress, feelings of hopelessness.
"We must end the months-long delay that places veterans in limbo when transitioning their paperwork from active duty status at the DOD to the VA," he said. "And, we can no longer expect veterans tormented by mental health issues to twist and turn through multiple levels of bureaucracy to get the care we owe them. This is a difficult issue.
"But we can't let the complexity be an excuse for not delivering care for our veterans. No one is more deserving."