‘Facing Stigma’ with Tulsi Gabbard

“I was always happiest when I was doing things for other people, but it was ultimately 9/11 that brought me to the decision to serve in the military. It was something I wanted to do and felt like I needed to do. I enlisted and was assigned to a medical company for a combat team when I went to Iraq for my first deployment. My primary task was to go through the list of all the American troops who were injured over the previous 24 hours to make sure they were being taken care of and getting everything they needed. I communicated a lot with their first line leaders, commanders, and even their families so that everyone was in the loop. We dealt with a lot of individuals who were injured and then evacuated to our hospital to receive care or moved out of country if need be. Whether it was folks from our brigade or other services, everyone came through there. It’s something that I carry with me everyday. I still remember my friends who were enlisted infantry NCOs and were out on patrol everyday. One friend in particular confided in me about something that had happened and he couldn’t get out of his head. He was a squad leader and had to put on a strong face for the rest of his unit. I was concerned for him so I talked to his commander and expressed those concerns. Many of my friends experienced that direct combat action where they were kicking down doors and taking fire. You also have others who didn’t have that experience but had trouble adjusting after living in a combat zone for years and thinking they could die at anytime.

After coming home from Iraq, I knew I wanted to step into a leadership role so I went through OCS and earned my commission. They didn’t allow women in combat arms at the time so I chose branch military police given that it was pretty multifaceted and would allow me to lead soldiers. The second deployment I volunteered for was in Kuwait as a platoon leader for the military police. In Iraq we had mortars coming in everyday, whereas Kuwait was a security environment and much different. Our primary mission in Kuwait was security patrols and escorts, while our secondary mission was providing security for dignitaries and VIPs. We were also tasked as the primary trainer for the Kuwaiti Army and that was an interesting experience in itself because of what I had to overcome as a woman in their country. Looking back, I’m grateful for both of my deployments. I felt like my experience as an enlisted service member gave me a unique perspective on why we need to ensure that mental health needs are being met and why it’s essential for our military. I recognize that everyone has different needs, different ways of processing, and different spiritual foundations and therefore, we have different ways of healing. There’s no one way or singular solution, but it’s being able to build that trust back up by providing the network and support. We need to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy to help the VA and nonprofits like Headstrong to help our veterans in the ways they need it and not in the ways that government regulation allows it. Sometimes higher ranking officials are too far removed to have that direct connection and the ability to identify the problem in order to provide a real solution. A viable solution doesn’t mean you throw more money at something so much as you monitor what’s actually working. We owe it to our veterans to provide the highest quality of care possible once they return home.”

To provide mental health treatment to veterans, please consider donating to the Headstrong Project at http://getheadstrong.org/donate/

Healing the hidden wounds of war