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Tuesday, October 11

Representative Merrifield "disappointed" in Mayor's lack of support for PTSD treatment
October 10, 2005
For Immediate Release
Contact: Mark Lewis

Colorado Springs, October 10, 2005 -- In a reaction to the unexpected withdrawal of support by Mayor Lionel Rivera for pro bono mental health cooperative, Operation Just One, an alliance of veterans and peace activists will protest on Tuesday, October 11, at 12:30 PM, at City Hall. 8 veterans and active military will join a coalition of groups and individuals to hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall to announce their opposition to Mayor Rivera's actions. Individuals will then air their views during the scheduled City Council meeting public comments segment.

Initially, Rivera came out with a strong endorsement of the program, established by Andrew Pogany a veteran of the Iraq war. A September 26 press release from Rivera's office announced that he would sign a proclamation announcing Combat Operational Stress/PTSD Awareness Day at the Operation Just One kickoff, Friday at the El Pomar Penrose House. Rivera retracted his statement within one day of news reporting of his announcement, citing issues with the language of the proclamation, which he said could he not verify.

Representative Michael Merrifield, expressed his disappointment with Mayor Rivera's withdrawal of support, saying, "Post traumatic stress disorder is a real and proven problem among veterans of the Iraq war, and every other war, for that matter."

In noting that Mayor Rivera has politicized the issue, representative Merrifield said, "Treatment for PTSD is not and should not be controversial or political. Any opportunity to provide treatment for soldiers suffering from PTSD should be encouraged, not discouraged.", he added.

"I am disappointed that Mayor Rivera felt it necessary to withdraw his support for this program that I am positive will be of great benefit to our soldiers who have served in Iraq."

Local activist, Dave Therault, critical of Rivera's move to distance himself from the community-based effort, noted that the statements which Rivera said he could not verify come directly from the Veteran's Administration National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. "His office either lacks the wherewithal to do a simple web search," said Therault, "or the mayor does not consider the VA's own publications to be representative of the the causes and effects of PTSD."

Therault also noted that the timing and finality of Rivera's retraction raises the question of influence on the mayor's office by Ft. Carson officials. "The Army's position is that the mental health services offered at Ft. Carson are sufficient to the needs of the soldiers, along with the official position of downplaying and even repressing GAO reports on PTSD," said Therault. "The mayor maintained a strong endorsement and planned participation in the program from Monday until Thursday, and then completely reversed himself immediately after the the media reported his planned proclamation," Therault added.

"Based on the flimsiest of arguments, the mayor now questions the need for this outreach to soldiers and families, apparently because his father, a combat veteran, had no psychological problems."

Local veterans who have been promoting Operation Just One are dismayed at Rivera's reversal and shunning of the effort. Jim Beckenhaupt, combat veteran of the Vietnam war, and member of Veterans for Peace, noting that the mental health program at Ft. Carson consists of six free counseling sessions, asked, "How can you heal the battle trauma our soldiers have seen in six counseling sessions?" Beckenhaupt believes that a community-based program, such as Operation Just One, functioning as it does, outside of of the military, is essential. Jim will speak at the press conference and to City Council.

"It is difficult for a soldier to ask for help internally and within his own company," said Beckenhaupt. "The soldier's fear is that if word gets out of his treatment for psychological issues, his superiors and his peers will lose trust in him." Observing that this was the mayor's original position, Beckenhaupt asked, "Why has he backed away from it?"

Beckenhaupt also sees a potential role for Operation Just One in helping a combat veteran return to civilian life. "The Army's purpose is to prepare the soldier to return to battle," he said. "The veteran needs concerned professionals to help him with long-term healing."

Vietnam combat Veteran, Patrick Badovinac explained the resistance to therapy this way, "The Army doesn't reload ammo, so when they've used that human bullet, they have no further use for it."

Pallas Stanford, chaplain at the Colorado Springs Camp Casey Peace Park, also expressed extreme disappointment with the Mayor's actions. "I want our veterans and their families to feel that Colorado Springs is doing everything possible to support them," she said. "Instead, the mayor's actions suggest that seeking and finding help within our community is somehow an unpatriotic indictment of the military."

Noting that some mental health professionals have withdrawn their support from Operation Just One, Stanford said, "Again, as for soldiers and their families, what impact can the mayor's actions have other than to increase the stigma and other obstacles to treatment that they already face?" She added, "The mayor's message tells everyone, including the soldier, that his or her needs are not valid."

"Operation Just One presented an opportunity for the mayor to show a real and substantive support for the troops," said Therault. "In turning his back on the program, he has failed the troops."


Veterans Administration publications:

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