I recently had the opportunity to sit down with SFTT Chairperson, Eilhys England Hackworth the wife, partner, co-author, and muse of Stand For the Troops (“SFTT”) founder, the late Colonel David H. Hackworth—America’s most valor-decorated soldier—from the late 1980s until his death. Since the passing of this great American hero in May 2005, Ms. England Hackworth has kept her deathbed promise to her husband to continue SFTT’s mission to protect America’s frontline troops.
The purpose of the meeting was to hear from SFTT’s Chairperson on why post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) has become such an important “hot button” for SFTT. What follows below is are key excerpts of the interview:
SFTT: Eilhys, thank you for your time. I am continually peppered by questions from readers as to why we changed the name of our organization from Soldiers For the Truth to Stand For the Troops. Can you explain the reason?
Eilhys: Happy to do so. Our new name speaks more easily to what we do on behalf of concerned Americans—stand for the troops—and more specifically, stand for our frontline troops, who stand tall for us and our country. Our mission to ensure that America’s frontline troops get the best available personal combat gear and protective equipment, including body armor and helmets, remains a priority. But recently we’ve been fielding a horrifying number of cries for help pointing to a lack of adequate care for veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from symptoms of PTSD.
SFTT: Yes. PTSD has certainly become a serious problem for returning veterans. How bad is it?
Eilhys: Horrific! Especially when every day in the United States, an average of 18 vets take their own lives – about one every 80 minutes!
STTT: That statistic is staggering. So exactly what is post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD?
Eilhys: The causes or origins of PTSD vary significantly according to psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors but in shorthand: PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). While the military is trying to cope with the growing problem – now reaching epidemic proportions – proper treatment is too often beyond the capabilities of our stretched VA hospitals. Statistics suggests that at least 1 in 5 of our serving men and women suffer from PTSD and this has terrible side-effects on their families and friends.
SFTT: When did you recognize the seriousness of PTSD for our returning veterans?
Eilhys: You know we’re always very connected to what’s going with our warriors. And early this year, the stories kept hitting the radar just as the suicide and homicide stats were becoming inescapable! We announced a new PTSD Initiative headed up by Major General John Batiste, U.S. Army (Retired) and then he arranged our close collaboration with a new treatment program, CDS Warrior Salute, with CDS President/CEO Sankar Sewnauth and Major General Robert Mixon, U.S. Army (Retired). But the full tragedy of the effects of PTSD struck home when the heart-breaking story of 36-year old veteran Staff Sgt. Brad Eifert who tried to commit suicide by firing on police officers became a front page New York Times story a few months ago. Fortunately, Sgt. Eifert didn’t kill himself or anyone else, but it could have been a tragedy. But then, in spite of the efforts of a compassionate judge, tireless lawyer and inspired Vet Court, who agreed that untreated combat stress disorder or PTSD had motivated his behavior, he still was about to be sentenced in the absence of any recourse.
SFTT: What did you do?
Eilhys: Within a day or two, I was able to speak with the trial judge, the lawyer representing Sgt. Eifert, the Vet Court Rep and his probation officer and then together John Batiste and I got him admitted to Warriors Salute to serve his probation there – in treatment. A goal achieved because of inspired teamwork on every level from Michigan, Connecticut, and Rochester, New York. I’m thrilled to report that Sgt. Eifert will graduate from the program next month with a second chance at life. And all of us are now in the process of delivering several more candidates from the court system to Warrior Salute – and their rightful chance to regain their interrupted young lives.
SFTT: You must be so pleased to have rescued this young man?
Eilhys: “Pleased” is not the right word. It is our ”obligation” to help our returning heroes. For each person that we’ve been able to reach out to, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of others that need the specific hands-on sanctuary that we’ve been able to offer.
SFTT: What’s the answer?
Eilhys: Well, SFTT is assembling a panel of leading experts in this field to determine “best modalities” for treating PTSD and hopefully eventually replicate the Warrior Salute state of the art and science program that evolves at strategically located regional treatment centers. In fact, Dr. Henry Grayson is hosting a seminar for Warrior Salute clinicians on December 3rd in New York City to introduce his highly effective treatment. Hopefully, SFTT will be sharing highlights on the SFTT website. And we’ve started developing a national/local resource with several Senators and Congressional representatives to provide an interactive list of public and private treatment options in their states.
SFTT: This sounds very exciting, but the task seems quite overwhelming. How can people help?
Eilhys: Well, it’s key that we both destigmatize PTSD and raise public awareness of the terrible problems faced by our returning warriors. The social and economic consequences to our society are staggering should we let our brave heroes down. While many people have given truly valuable time to get our PTSD initiative off the ground, funding is required at this point for a meaningful impact. Hopefully enough concerned citizens will join the effort by contributing anyway they can. The more members and active volunteers the greater SFTT’s ability to affect change.
SFTT: Thank you Eilhys. I am sure SFTT readers will flock to help our brave warriors in their hour of need.
Richard W. May for SFTT