Tag Archives: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Looking out for your wingman during the holidays

By Staff Sgt. Jarrod Chavana
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

111208-F-SM817-001Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in a blog series on dealing with holiday stress, strengthening resiliency and linking Airmen to support networks and resources. Airmen are encouraged to seek help and know that they have an Air Force family ready to listen and provide support in times of need.

The holidays are meant to be cheerful, but for some Airmen it can be the most stressful time of the year. As it is most often a time spent with friends and family, this season can be a magnifier for those individuals with existing emotional or psychological issues.

Although we signed the dotted line and chose this life, it’s never easy to be away from loved ones. In 2009, I spent Christmas deployed to Iraq, while my pregnant wife and family were on the other side of the world. Even though I was able to watch my daughters open presents over the Internet, it wasn’t quite the same. For many Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, this has become a common place, but for others this can be the last straw.

There are countless reasons why someone may be feeling down. Some common causes could be: this is the first time he or she has been away from home on the holidays, financial problems or relationship issues.

Even though you may converse with your co-workers, do you really know what’s happening to them outside of work? We should be looking after our own throughout the year, especially during the holiday season. Each and every day we should look for warning signs, trying to find out the causes of why someone has become withdrawn or why someone is lashing out. 

Once you recognize that an Airman has a true problem, what next? You should try to talk to him or her, but more importantly – listen. If an Airman does not want to share his or her issues, provide reassurance and information on the various programs available to Airmen and dependents for private mental and spiritual care.

Each base provides mental health counselors. Chaplains and Military One Source are also good options. Base chaplains have a 100 percent confidentiality clause, while Military One Source provides up to 12 off-base counseling sessions per issue at no charge.

Other programs include the Suicide Prevention Line, which has a toll free number 1-800-273-Talk (8255). The Defense Centers of Excellence, available 24/7, is staffed by health resource consultants who provide information, resources and referrals for service members, veterans and their families. They can be reached at 1-866-966-1020 or resources@dcoeoutreach.com.

The holiday season is meant to be a joyous time in our lives, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed and powerless, please remember there is always a military support system.    

PHOTO:: Though Tech Sgt. Sonja Williams, 94th Airlift Wing Airman and Family Readiness specialist, simulates a depressed Airman, holiday depression is real. During this time of the year, people may experience heightened stress, fatigue, financial constraints and loneliness triggered by the holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Chelsea Smith)

TBI and PTSD: ‘There is no shame in getting help’

by Tech. Sgt. Chuck Walker, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

As high profile cases have emerged about National Football League players and other athletes sustaining brain injuries, and as the nation has watched veterans return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder have become hot topics.

Allara2

Master Sgt. Jennifer Allara, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader at Dover Air Force Base, has experienced both.

In Sept. 2009, Allara’s EOD team at Provincial Reconstruction Farah, Afghanistan, was ambushed while out on patrol. A teammate, Staff Sgt. Bryan Berky, was killed by a sniper during the attack. For Allara, it was a wake-up call.

“We are trained to accept a certain amount of danger with our job,” she said. “I always thought in terms of me; what if something happens to me? What if we get blown up? I wasn’t thinking in terms of losing a team member in a turret.”

Upon her return from Afghanistan, Allara went to mental health and sought therapy when she began experiencing symptoms of TBI and PTSD. For her, it seemed to bring about more questions than answers.

Determined to heal, Allara recently began treatment at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md. She will undergo four weeks of analysis and leave the center with a care plan designed to meet her needs.

Allara hopes that her example will compel others to seek help if they are experiencing problems when they return from deployment.

“There is no shame in getting help,” she said. “There is no shame in recognizing what is going on with someone and being able to reach out and help. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your Airmen.”

For more on this story, click here.

Through Airmen’s Eyes: Chief discusses how family, pet help PTSD issues, Nov. 29, 2012


by Staff Sgt. Amanda Dick
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

I recently had the opportunity to work as a journalist for a couple of months at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. While there, I wrote many news articles on Air Force-level issues, with a few feature stories sprinkled in.

Though I’ve written several articles that have touched me throughout my seven years in the Air Force, none have touched my heart and soul as deeply as the story of Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen and his service dog, Yoko.

Spending a good portion of the day with them was truly a blessing. Yoko is a tremendously sweet and smart dog, and Chief Simonsen is an inspiration to us all. I wrote this for Wounded Warrior Month this month; however, I think we should always appreciate and remember our wounded warriors – without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t have this great country.

So, without further ado, here is the article for your reading pleasure …

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Coming back from deployment, Airmen face the home-station work environment, reintegrating with family and settling back into day-to-day life.

What happens when an Airman is diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mild Traumatic Brain Injury upon return?

For one Airman, his path to recovery has been slow, but he’s overcome the challenges he’s faced.

“I gave myself permission to let my traumatic brain injury and PTSD be there,” said Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling senior enlisted leader. “Then, I gave myself permission to reset everything and not be embarrassed by it.”

Simonsen’s last deployment was as a Public Affairs officer with a provincial reconstructive team in both Nuristan and Kandahar Provinces in Afghanistan. He completed 66 outside-the-wire missions with five attacks on their team. Due to the attacks, he was hospitalized for back and hip injuries and again for head injuries.


Upon return, he said he felt depressed and anxious, and he had difficulty being in crowds.

“The toughest thing is feeling you cannot be as productive as you used to be,” Simonsen said. “Concentration was more difficult; writing e-mails was more difficult; composing my thoughts and expressing myself was more difficult.”

A big piece of the recovery process for Simonsen has been his service dog.

“Yoko is a wonderful addition to my life,” said the wounded warrior. “I say she’s a resiliency tool of the first order. My recovery was really, really slow – it still is. Physically, I’m broken. And, the emotional, mental part was recovering slowly as well.”

While at the TBI clinic one day, he interacted so positively with the facility dog that it was suggested he look into getting a service dog for himself.

“Once they placed her with me, the change was almost immediate,” Simonsen said. “I’m not the old Rich Simonsen – I never will be. But, I’m a lot closer, because of her. She’s an unobtrusive companion; she provides a calming influence. She’s a good wingman for me.”

Yoko also enables him to be in crowds and speak in public, like when he speaks to Airmen at Right Start briefings or Airmen Professional Enhancement Courses. And, although Yoko is noticeable, she doesn’t detract from the chief’s message.

“A lot of his focus I felt was on ways to deal with people,” said U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Ceremonial Guardsman Airman 1st Class Nicholas Priest at an APE Course. “I thought he had a lot of valuable information on how to deal with what we may have issues with. If you have a positive work environment, it helps people work a lot harder. Look out for people, especially where sexual assault prevention and suicide awareness are concerned. We’re one force, so we need to work as a team.”

Though Simonsen said he has a tendency to isolate himself and has a hard time dealing with the physical pain from his injuries, he tries not to focus solely on the negative.

“The biggest difference on a positive side is I take a little more time to think about things before I respond,” the senior enlisted leader said. “That gives me a little more contemplative way of being.”

Aside from the resources of mental health and the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Simonsen said his family and church have been a huge source of support for him.

“My wife has followed me around the world for going on 25 years,” he said. “She loves me no matter what. But, she knew I was suffering when I came home. She pushed me to get help. Everyone has a support system they can tap into. We need to use them in our recovery, but we also have to remember they’re there working hard and taking a lot of the stress.”

For those who may be suffering silently with PTSD, Simonsen offers this piece of advice.

“Coming forward shows courage and strength and is in line with our core values. You can go get help and still succeed in your career.”

Though there are many programs out there for wounded warriors, November helps shed light on issues facing wounded veterans as it is Wounded Warrior Month.

Click the hyperlink to view view the video on Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen.

Photo 1: Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen hugs his service dog, Yoko, while on a walk. Simonsen lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition he endured on a deployment to Afghanistan and the service dog helps him with his daily activities. PTSD can occur after one has been through a traumatic event. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)

Photo 2: Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen works as the senior enlisted leader at Joint Base Anacostia- Bolling in Washington D.C. Simonsen speaks to Airmen about his daily struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how to seek help. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)

Photo 3: Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen works as the senior enlisted advisor on Joint Base Anacostia- Bolling in Washington D.C. He lives with Post Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a condition he endured from a deployment to Afghanistan last year. Yoko, his service dog, helps him with his day to day activities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)