TRAVERSE CITY — A local college extension class on post-traumatic stress disorder has come a long way since April.
The instructor, retired Lt. Col. Linda Fletcher, and several students are forming a non-profit to advocate for better treatment of combat veterans returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The group of about 20 people also hopes to turn Traverse City into a local and national education and conference center on the subject.
“PTSD has reached epidemic proportions,” Fletcher said. “Returning soldiers and their families, including parents and siblings, are not getting the support they need to effectively deal with this problem.”
Fletcher said the group — “A Matter of Honor,” or AMOH — germinated from a two-session class she taught this spring at Northwestern Michigan College. Some students in the class wanted to continue discussions that began during class on what they could do on the home front to help improve PTSD treatment for veterans and their families.
A U.S. military veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, on average, according to the most recent Department of Veterans Affairs study. About 22 veterans committed suicide each day in 2010. Nearly 30 percent of the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD and half of those with PTSD do not seek treatment.
“We decided public education is what needs to happen,” Fletcher said. “The question was, ‘How do you do that?’ And the answer is, ‘It’s a challenge but it has to happen across the land.’”
PTSD is triggered by terrifying and tragic events often experienced in combat, catastrophe and abuse of all kinds. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
U.S. Marine veteran Larry Lelito served 13 months in heavy combat near the Laotian border in 1966 and 1967 and attended Fletcher’s class. He is an adviser to AMOH. He also works on PTSD-related concerns as a mentor and peer with other veterans and veterans groups.