Today is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day, a day dedicated to recognizing the condition from which an unnerving number of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer. Today is a day to renew our commitment to address PTSD.
Over the past few years I’ve told my family’s story of our struggles with PTSD and traumatic brain injury in a rural state. My son, a former Special Forces officer, suffered a life-changing brain injury and is now classified as 100 percent disabled. Since then, I’ve seen the challenges Montana veterans face when seeking treatment for their injuries. But I’ve also been fortunate to see and be part of the progress that’s been made.
When my son was injured, our family faced a system that often left Montana’s injured service members falling through the cracks. Medical care for soldiers was not adequate or state-of-the-art. Also, families would often have to travel hundreds of miles to get care and would often have to do so at their own expense. Senators’ leadership
Fortunately, our U.S. senators were quick to address many of these issues. Sen. Jon Tester, with his leadership, was able to make some crucial changes to improve the lives of injured troops and their families. He passed incentives to help recruit and retain quality VA health care providers in rural communities. He increased the VA’s travel reimbursement rate to 41.5 cents a mile for veterans who must travel for care. And he expanded the VA’s telehealth program to make medical care more accessible to Indians and rural communities.
The work isn’t done for our veterans, though. Montana had no poly-trauma unit for veterans suffering from multiple ailments, such as my son. Fortunately though, this too is in the process of being fixed, with a poly-trauma soon to be up and operating in Helena. This unit wouldn’t have been possible or even in Montana, if not for the diligent work of Sens. Max Baucus and Tester who were committed to getting this done for Montana veterans and their families.
Montanans know that caring for our veterans when they return home from combat is the commitment we make when we send them to defend our nation. Research funding
Just this month the House of Representatives (including Rep. Denny Rehberg) voted against a proposal to increase funding for research on PTSD, traumatic brain injury and prosthetic limbs. Freedom isn’t free. I find it unconscionable to make a decision that affects soldiers and veterans, like my son, who defended our country and whose lives are now forever changed. This type of research has allowed my son, along with thousands of veterans, to continue their progress and live more meaningful lives. The health — including mental health — of our veterans should be one of our top priorities.
When I travel to Seattle to visit my son, I see his progress and the challenges he faces. I’ve never wavered in my personal commitment to helping all of those with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I’m very proud that our Montana senators have led the way toward better care for our veterans.
Karen Bohlinger of Helena is the wife of Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger.