The number of post-9/11 wounded warriors living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder continues to climb, according to the Wounded Warrior Project’s annual survey of the veterans it serves.
June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day and the organization's most recent survey found that 83% of the respondents report living with PTSD. That is the highest reported percentage in the survey's 10-year history and an increase of 5% from the previous year.
"This has been a challenging time for our country and the warriors we serve," said retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Richardson, WWP vice president of independence services and mental health. "Veterans with PTSD who are experiencing additional stress need to know they are not alone, help is available and treatment works. Contrary to what stigma dictates, it shows amazing strength to seek care for the invisible wounds — just as one would for a visible injury.”
WWP is also seeing a rising need for mental health support amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Richardson said. In the first two months since it suspended in-person programming and shifted to virtual offerings, there was a 38% increase in referrals to WWP mental health programs and a 38% increase in referrals to mental health providers.
Richardson called PTSD a “disease of avoidance that manifests itself as time goes by.”
With that in mind, he said WWP has made mental and brain health research and support its largest investment over the past several years.
Richardson said through programming, partnerships and research, WWP is focused on the treatment of today and solutions of tomorrow to support warriors with invisible wounds of war
“PTSD is not a civilian or military issue,” he said. “It’s the body’s natural response to stressful events.”
Among WWP’s mental health programs is the Warrior Care Network, which provides clinical mental health care through a partnership between WWP and four academic medical centers. Project Odyssey, WWP's adventure-based mental health workshop, helps warriors and their significant others build resilience. And WWP Talk offers mental health phone support to warriors and their families.
All three mental health programs helped Air Force veteran Sam Hargrove in different ways to save her life.
"I wouldn't be here right now if it weren't for Wounded Warrior Project," she said. "These invisible injuries are not a life sentence. I'm living proof that treatment works."
Hargrove said she sought treatment after a family member told her they were afraid of her.
“I was one of those individuals who said, 'I don’t need help,’" she said.