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Nathan Havey Headshot

300,000 Invisible Wounds and Counting

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A 2008 study by the Rand Corporation on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) contains the following stats: 1.64 million men and women have deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan since the beginning of the wars in those countries. An estimated 300,000 service members struggle with PTSD, many of them still deployed. 320,000 likely have a TBI.

Fred Gusman is the Executive Director of The Pathway Home, an alternative transition center to care for those with PTSD who have fallen through the cracks of the VA. After decades of work as a nationally recognized leader in mental health care at the VA and as an on-site combat stress management consultant and trainer for the US military, he left the system to do focused experimental work on PTSD and other invisible wounds. Mr. Gusman is now responsible for a new approach to mental health care that serves as a transportable model for how the VA can become more modern, effective and personal.

Mr. Gusman, the Pathway Home, and three Iraq war veterans are the subject of Broken Promise, a new documentary film (above) that premiered Saturday at the Roxie theater in San Francisco. The event was the kick-off of a national tour for veterans that is being organized by the online documentary series IN THEIR BOOTS. More than 100 people attended the premiere including many of the leaders of veterans organizations in Northern California.

Broken Promise shows the experiences many returning vets struggling with invisible wounds have had with the VA. The constant retelling of stories to new people with each visit to the VA can be frustrating. Sometimes, just finding the right person to talk to can be a tangled affair of many phone calls, transfers, redirection, and waiting. Their criticisms center on the perception that the VA does not "take the time to appreciate your case." Regardless of whether it is justified, the fact that this perception exists is a problem that must be addressed.

The VA is, by far, the best place for veterans to go for support, but the lack of a personal feel is causing some veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to give up hope in the VA. This is a crisis that will only deepen as the draw down of forces in Iraq continues, and more vets with invisible wounds need support. Mr. Gusman's program takes an extremely personal approach. Veterans at the Pathway Home form a community of support for each other and their families as they work to live with their invisible wounds. The Pathway Home is an innovative model and it is working. It can be implemented across the country and would do much to help this generation of veterans to have a much smoother reentry than the last.

At the conclusion of the screening in San Francisco, representatives from the VA spoke for a few minutes on what the VA has done and is doing to address the concerns raised by the veterans in the film. One very valuable piece of information that resulted is the fact that the VA has responded to the frustrations and concerns of Iraq and Afghanistan vets like those in Mr. Gusman's program by appointing a program manager specifically for those vets in hospitals across the country. Now, when vets of our current wars go to the VA, there is a person who can can directly assist them. That person is called the 'OEF/OIF program manager.' Knowing to ask for that person amounts to knowing the magic words for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

IN THEIR BOOTS will film a special short update from the VA that will be attached to the film to share the VA's efforts with everyone, and to ensure that the 'magic words' become widely known.

You can follow the IN THEIR BOOTS national tour on Facebook, on twitter @itb and by going to www.INTHEIRBOOTS.com.

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