Washington, DC - On Veteran's Day, Army Major General David Blackledge told the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said that "a revolution" is occurring in how the military looks at post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"Combat is not a normal situation," Blackledge said in a 25 minute interview available on the NAMI website. He described his own experience with posttraumatic stress after being wounded in combat in Iraq. Blackledge is commanding general of the Army's Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne). His decorations include five Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. He was wounded once in a convoy ambush and once during a suicide bombing in Iraq.
Soldiers are trained in a warrior culture, but "combat is not a normal situation," Blackledge said. When he was wounded, "we didn't really have a clear protocol" for treatment. "Psychological aspects took a backseat."
As part of a treatment "revolution," the Army has recognized a need to be "proactive" in helping troops in combat and "especially upon return." The new approach focuses on "comprehensive soldier fitness" and "resiliency."
"Two people can experience the same traumatic events, One will develop posttraumatic stress and it could be a debilitating issue for the rest of their life. For the other person, it doesn't have lasting effects."
The Army is working to better understand and incorporate "resiliency" into training as part of institutional change. It includes providing psychological tools to prepare for and respond to posttraumatic stress.
"We're still struggling as a nation with the stigma of mental illness," Blackledge said. "I tell my soldiers and their families, you need to look at it as an injury, just like a physical injury. If you break your leg, there's no question that you are going to go to the doctor. Help is there. We recognize it takes courage to seek help. We encourage it ... We have learned so much."
For an audio recording of the full interview, go to Interview with General Blackledge.