By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Soldiers who return from war with post traumatic stress suffer hidden wounds that are comparable to those sustained by a bullet to the leg or arm.
So said General Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
Chiarelli (pronounced Corelli) is a practicing Catholic whose resume includes the title distinguished military graduate of Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic university in Washington State, and recipient of a master’s degree in National Security and Strategy from Salve Regina University, an institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy in Newport, R.I.
In an address Jan. 13 at the Union League of Philadelphia, Chiarelli talked about post traumatic stress and how it afflicts an astounding number of military personnel.
“I have a passion for this,” he said of his work on behalf of those who suffer the “invisible wounds of war.”
The good news is “there is help available for them,” said the general. “We’ve got to get past the stigma associated with this. We all need to understand that invisible wounds are as serious as the wounds you can see. It makes no difference.”
But post traumatic stress is complicated, Chiarelli said. “It’s so difficult. You send a loved one off to war and they come back and physically they look exactly like they did when they left. But mentally, something has occurred.
“Families see the way we are able to treat the visible wounds of war. I can look at an inspanidual who has lost an arm or a leg and tell them their life is going to be a lot better six to eight months from now. We see them running marathons or 10Ks, climbing mountains or playing golf.
“We can help people with post traumatic stress or TBI (traumatic brain injury) but it is much more difficult in many cases because the sharing of symptoms between post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and other behavioral health issues … becomes difficult at times to have the ability to make a proper diagnosis.”
In the United States, the average span between the initial event of post traumatic stress and the time a victim seeks help is 12 years. In addition, people who experience post traumatic stress are six times more likely to commit suicide.
“There’s a stigma in this country,” Chiarelli said. Just as with a cut or a concussion, “these are injuries that have to be treated.”
In conjunction with its Comprehensive Solider Fitness program that addresses ailments such as post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, the Army is taking a leadership role in addressing what for some can be debilitating afflictions.
According to Chiarelli, spirituality is one of the pillars of the program. Preventing post traumatic stress, he said, is a priority.
“We know we can train people to be more resilient,” he said. “People who are more resilient – and, understanding spirituality is part of resiliency – are less likely to get post traumatic stress than people who have a low level of resilience.”
The role of the military chaplain, including those who are Catholic priests, is a crucial component of the comprehensive soldier fitness program, Chiarelli said.
Many times, the chaplain is the first rung on the road to recovery for a soldier who has symptoms of post traumatic stress or other problems. “We train our chaplains to see these symptoms and to not only work to help them spiritually but to get them the professional help they need from a behavioral health specialist.”
Chiarelli described the caliber of the U.S. Army’s Catholic chaplains as “absolutely fantastic” and “amazing” in their dedication to their work and ministry.
The general gave a heartfelt thank you to all who have supported the troops throughout the country’s nearly decade of war.
“You may not be in favor of either one of the wars we’ve been in,” Chiarelli said, but know, he continued, that the resounding support to the servicemen and servicewomen who have served in the wars is appreciated.
He encourages all to continue to support the troops through prayer, overseas outreach programs and in making a concerted effort to educate oneself and others about post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
“When you see somebody who demonstrates the symptoms, get them to the help that they need. Those are the things that we need more than anything.”
Chiarelli became the 32nd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army in August 2008. Throughout his career, he has served in Army units in the United States, Germany and Belgium, and has commanded at every level from platoon to corps.
For more information about post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, visit the web site www.dcoe.health.mil or www.army.mil.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.