ONE for all Operation JUST ONE, a community-based mental health service initiative offering free care to active-duty soldiers returned from Iraq, their families and veterans of that conflict, was unveiled last Friday in Colorado Springs at the El Pomar Foundation's Penrose House.
Mayor Lionel Rivera was expected to offer the city's support of the project at the ceremony, but Rivera withdrew his support at the last hour. According to Operation JUST ONE representative and retired Army Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany, Rivera said that after a seven-hour Internet search, he couldn't find data to affirm that soldiers returning from Iraq actually need mental health intervention or treatment beyond what they receive from the government.
"That presents just another barrier for treatment," says Pogany, adding that Rivera's actions might discourage someone from seeking help, feeding the fear that "nobody's going to believe me."
In a 2004 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at Walter Reed Medical Center issued anonymous questionnaires to more than 6,000 soldiers who had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. While one in eight reported symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other stress-related mental health issues, less than half of those soldiers sought help due to fear of stigmatization, or of hurting their careers.
"It's all about supporting the troops," says Pogany, who went to Iraq in 2003 and came home with serious trauma issues. "At a minimum, they should be able to expect whatever help they need for the toll war takes on them. Health care providers understand that means you have to back your words with action, not just yellow 'Support Our Troops' car magnets."
To request services from Operation JUST ONE, visit the Web site at operationjustone.org. (The site is under construction; just click "Contact" and your e-mail will be transmitted.)
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Photo by Sally Piette