Local Commentary

Jim Moran

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, is a disease that many of our nation’s servicemen and women returning home from combat are struggling to cope with.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault.

Symptoms of the disease include a repeated "reliving" of the event through flashbacks, nightmares and recurring memories, a lack of interest in what used to be normal activities which is accompanied by feelings of detachment, hopelessness, emotional “numbing” and reduced expression of moods.

PTSD sufferers are also prone to irritability and outbursts of anger, they often have difficulty sleeping and concentrating.  Many experience "survivor’s guilt," high levels of anxiety and stress and severe panic attacks.

For combat vets these symptoms make adjusting to civilian life extremely difficult. Without treatment, many turn to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain. A recent study from the National Center for PTSD reports that over half of PTSD sufferers had a lifetime diagnosis of alcoholism and over a third had a lifetime drug abuse diagnosis. 

The result of PTSD going untreated in our servicemen and women can have tragic consequences.  A recent story appearing in Newsweek detailed the situation of a vet suffering from PTSD symptoms who returned from Iraq in 2005.

The Marine, Jonathan Schulze, was a Purple Heart winner.  During one battle in Ramadi, 16 men from his unit were killed.  Back home in the U.S., he turned to alcohol to fight off the recurrent nightmares.  During the day, flashbacks and panic attacks were so powerful he was unable to concentrate at work.

Jonathan sought help from the VA but was told the center was full.  Four days later, in the depths of despair and hopelessness, Jonathan ended his life at the age of 25.

Jonathan’s story is an extreme example, but one that is too often occurring to our returning servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan.

We can’t save Jonathan, but there are thousands members of the armed forces who need help now and those that will need treatment when they finally get home from war.

In order to help prevent more tragic stories like Jonathan’s from happening, Congressman Ray LaHood (R-IL) and I joined with Senators Obama and Snowe to craft the “Lane Evans Mental Health and Benefits Improvement Act” a bipartisan, bicameral effort that will give our active service members and veterans greater medical access to PTSD evaluations and care.

Named in honor of former Congressman Lane Evans, who as ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for more than 10 years was the foremost advocate for veterans in Congress, this legislation would require returning soldiers to receive a one-on-one, face-to-face mental health assessment from a qualified medical professional.

Because PTSD often does not manifest itself immediately after the traumatic event which caused the disease, our bill extends from two years to five, the window that discharged soldiers can receive free mental health evaluations through the VA.

The bill would also create a registry to collect data on medical services used by service members to assist in budget forecasting and avoid shortfalls.

Lastly, it makes it mandatory that Guardsmen and Reservists receive the same treatment as regular enlisted soldiers.

Our legislation has strong, bipartisan support.  Over 35 members have cosponsored the legislation already, including Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner, and Defense Appropriations Chairman Jack Murtha.

Supporting the troops means more than simply cheering them on in battle. It also means caring for them when the return home with the scars of war, both physical and mental.  The crisis at Walter Reed has brought home the fact that with regard to the latter, our support thus far has been woefully insufficient.