By Zack Budryk
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday announced a major initiative to increase research on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries for returning veterans.
“The idea is very simple,” Obama said. “In a time of war, when our troops and their families are sacrificing so much, we all should be doing as much as we can to serve them as well as they’re serving this country.”
Under the “Joining Forces” initiative, VCU’s School of Medicine and 100 other members of the Association of American Medical Colleges pledged to ramp up their research and treatment of PTSD and brain injuries suffered by military personnel.
Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, joined Obama in announcing the program at VCU’s Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. The audience included military personnel from Fort Lee and students from the VCU School of Medicine.
In her remarks, the first lady described the challenges members of the military face when returning home from overseas deployment, particularly in light of the end of the eight-year war in Iraq.
“We all must remember in this country that for our troops, the end of a war marks the beginning of a very long period of transition,” Obama said. “That’s what we’re here to address today: the mental health challenges that so many of our troops face once they return home.”
She also discussed the need to remove the stigma often attached to soldiers seeking help for mental and psychological issues.
“I want to be very clear today,” Obama said. “These mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness. PTSD, TBI, depression and any other combat-related mental health issues should never again be a source of shame.”
Obama was preceded in her remarks by VCU President Michael Rao; Jerome F. Strauss, dean of the School of Medicine; and Army Spc. Cedric Holland, who described his experiences overcoming PTSD after serving in Afghanistan.
“First lady Michelle Obama’s visit to VCU is both an honor and a tremendous opportunity to highlight our excellence in rehabilitative science and our commitment to human health,” Rao said.
“Our Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s partnership with the VA Hospital System has earned a national reputation as a comprehensive polytrauma center that treats seriously injured American service members, many with traumatic brain injuries or suffering from PTSD.”
Sgt. 1st Class Theresa F. Howard, a reserve component liaison at Fort Lee, called the first lady’s speech “awesome.” Howard said she agreed with the initiative’s emphasis on treatment of mental health issues.
“I think it’s definitely… treatment that’s needed,” Howard said. She said she believed it was common for members of the military to avoid seeking treatment because “they don’t want to be singled out.”
Walker Shaw, a second-year student in the School of Medicine, also was impressed by Obama.
“I think she did a really good job of addressing an area of the country’s needs that really haven’t been looked at that hard so far,” Shaw said. “We haven’t yet started our behavioral sciences section … so [her remarks] will set that up for a very unique perspective when we learn that in a couple months.”
Obama closed her remarks by urging Americans to provide continuous support for returning veterans.
“There is no shortage of people who want to help, because America is here for the long haul – not just today when the lights are bright and the cameras are on,” she said. “Not just on Veterans Day or September 11th, but every day.”