President Barack Obama delivered a moving speech on Tuesday at the annual American Legion Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota urging an end to the stigmatization of veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In light of the dramatic rise in suicide rates among soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president vowed to continue improving outreach and suicide prevention services, along with increasing the number of mental-health care providers and agencies to treat more soldiers struggling with the psychological wounds of combat duty.

Citizens Cannot Turn a Blind Eye to PTSD

The president also explained an earlier decision announced this past July to send official condolence letters to soldiers who committed suicide while serving. His decision to overturn long-standing policies barring such letters came after a lengthy and tough assessment of the previous guidelines. He is taking such action to eliminate the stigma associated with PTSD and depression and to demonstrate his support for all men and women in the armed forces.

Addressing an audience of veterans, President Obama recognized the upcoming ten-year anniversary of the notorious terrorist attacks, calling the latest group of warriors—which encompasses more than five million Americans--the '9/11 Generation'. He noted that the persistent threat from the enemy's relentless use of improvised explosive devices have resulted in multiple traumatic injuries. Due to great medical and technological advances, soldiers from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan are surviving nonetheless, underscoring the need for long-term emotional support like never before.

The leader's speech brought attention to the challenges veterans with PTSD face. The psychiatric condition is an anxiety disorder triggered after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. War clearly exposes soldiers to graphic and violent images that can lead to the development of PTSD. The illness may also arise after natural disasters, assault, accidents, rape, kidnapping, domestic abuse, and child abuse.

Understanding the Seriousness of PTSD

Some individuals recover from terrifying attacks and resume their lives, while others become emotionally paralyzed by their fears and profoundly affected. The illness interrupts their ability to function and engage in daily routines, and relationship and work problems frequently follow.

Military mental health-care professionals have explored possible causes, such as having a history of mental illness, to explain why some soldiers may be more deeply impacted than others. Such information can help identify at-risk soldiers prior to deployment and provide them with specialized counseling.

Soldiers with PTSD tend to avoid seeking support for fear of being stigmatized or overlooked for military promotions. They also strive to maintain an image of strength and stability, feeling ashamed of their perceived mental weakness.

They frequently suffer from repeated flashbacks and nightmares, avoiding places and people that remind them of the traumatic event. They are prone to fits of anger and irritability and have a higher likelihood of engaging in destructive behaviors including drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide.

The president also promised his ongoing and long-term commitment to deployed and returning soldiers, stating that a 30 percent increase in funding for the Veteran Affairs was underway. He declared that services for veterans would not be comprised in any way, despite budget constraints.

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Michele Rosenthal
Michele Rosenthal
Michele Rosenthal
Eugene G. Lipov, M.D.


Date of original publication:

Updated: July 12, 2016