The American Legion Department of North Dakota embarked on a mission to encourage veterans to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder beginning in March. The initiative, called Courage Carries On, addresses veterans through television, Facebook, billboards, radio, the Internet and print, and lists contact information for support services for veterans.
"In my work as a department service officer, I was getting some calls from family members whose veteran had tried to commit suicide," said Jim Deremo, service officer for the North Dakota American Legion. "They wanted to know where to get services. We (at the American Legion) thought that we need to do something to get the information out there, and our committee came up with the idea for 'Courage Carries On.' "
"I've had a lot of vets come in, who were afraid if they said anything, that they might be locked in a rubber room," he added. "They're not crazy. PTSD is simply a normal reaction to a traumatic event."
Graphics submitted by Results Unlimited - - 'You had the courage to serve your country. Now have the courage to help yourself.' -- tagline for Courage Carries On
The Courage Carries on Program, launched through the North Dakota American Legion, features real veterans who have sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder, and some experiences common to those suffering from PTSD.
Deremo said there are many services available to help veterans, privately or through the military, but many individuals weren't seeking them due to stigma.
"The word (about services) was just not getting out, firstly, and secondly, veterans were having problems asking for help," Deremo said. "We just wanted to tell them that it's OK if you ask."
"One of the things we wanted to do was to give them an avenue outside the government, because they may be really hesitant to go through the military to get psychiatric help," he added. "Right or wrong, they felt that if they go to a psychiatrist and it gets on their record, it will hurt their career. We don't care where you get the help. We just want to make sure you get the help."
Defining post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening. Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Symptoms can disrupt your life and make it hard to continue with your daily activities. It may be hard just to get through the day. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you probably have post-traumatic stress disorder. There are four types of symptoms: reliving the event, avoidance, numbing and feeling keyed-up.
SOURCE: The American Legion
Courage Carries On
Courage Carries On encourages veterans seeking help to call 2-1-1, a helpline managed by Mental Health America of North Dakota, to be connected to important community services. This statewide information, referral, and crisis management service is free and operator-serviced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, veterans can call the Veterans Suicide Prevention line at 1-800-273-8255.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
The first phase of Courage Carries On was kicked off with pamphlets and posters placed as Legion posts throughout the state. The second phase involved television and radio spots. The third phase involved billboards.
"There's several faces on the posters. They are all actual vets from different eras that stepped forward, that have been where these people are right now. They wanted people to know that they've been there, they made the phone call, and their lives are better because they asked for help," Deremo said.
For the next phase of the campaign, Deremo said, family members of veterans will be featured.
"When you have a family member that suffers from PTSD, not only does the vet suffer from that, but so does the whole family the spouse, the kids, possibly the parents, and the friends. It affects your whole circle," Deremo said. "Family members may also need counseling, to work through the issue."
Deremo said he hopes the campaign will have a continuing impact.
"We want to offer the program Courage Carries On to other American Legions in the states," Deremo said. "In spite of all the military is doing, we're still seeing an increase in suicide, and whatever we can do to bring that down, we want to help."
"From day one, when we started this, what we told ourselves was this: If we save one life, through all of this, it's going to be worth it," he said. "That's the entire goal."