FORT LEE, Va. — With tears in her eyes, holding her microphone with a shaky hand, Amanda Souza told President Barack Obama about her husband who committed suicide after not treating PTSD caused by his deployment.
“My question to you is how can we ensure that our military men and women understand that it’s OK to get the help that they need and that they’re not going to risk their careers, that they are not going to be labeled?” Souza asked during CNN’s presidential town hall Wednesday, moderated by Jake Tapper.
“How can we enforce and ensure that especially my son’s generation that’s — that’s coming into the military as careers, that they understand that it’s OK to get the help that they need? How can we change the stereotype?” Souza asked, explaining that her son is an active-duty Marine, and she created a foundation in her husband’s honor to help other veterans, service men and women, and their families improve their lives — but she says it’s not enough.
Obama thanked her for her efforts, adding: “I honor your husband’s service, and I thank your son for his service. And I thank you for your service because you’re serving along with them. And, you know, sometimes the weight of battle comes home.”
The military needs to get rid of the stigma associated with mental health and his administration is increasing funding toward mental health services, Obama said.
“The first is I have instructed the Joint Chiefs and up and down the chain of command that they have a responsibility to de stigmatize mental health issues and issues of PTSD and help to explain to everybody in all of the units under their command that there’s nothing weak about asking for help,” he said.
Roughly 20 veterans commit suicide daily, according to a Veteran Affairs study released July 2016. The study also revealed that veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide in the US.
Obama compared treating mental health to treating a broken leg — it needs to be healed.
“You’re going to go to a doctor to get that leg healed,” he said. “If, as a consequence of the extraordinary stress and pain that you are witnessing, typically, in a battlefield, something inside you feels like it’s wounded, it’s just like a physical injury. You’ve got to go get help.”
He said that his administration is working on increasing the funding for health services for veterans.
“Now, you also have to back it up with resources, so this brings me to my second point. We have increased the funding for mental health services since I’ve been president by about 75%,” he said. “And part of what we’re trying to do is start early by embedding, in some cases, clinicians, people who can help, in the units in theater, not just when they get back home, so that when something happens, we’re able right away.”