BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- Seven seriously wounded, ill and injured service members, as well as their spouses and parents, shared moving testimonials at the inaugural Naval District Washington Wounded Warrior Family Symposium Nov. 6 at Naval Support Activity Bethesda's (NSAB) USO Bethesda Warrior & Family Center.
"What a great way to kick off Warrior Care Month," said Capt. David A. Bitonti, commanding officer of NSAB, at the start of the event. "Our goal today is to have some discussions that will help us better support our wounded warriors and military family."
"Today is really all about you," Bitonti told the wounded warriors and caregivers in the audience.
The focus of the event was two panel discussions with wounded warriors and their caregivers. The first panel included Sailors struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The second panel featured Sailors and a Coast Guardsman battling long-term illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
"I've had PTSD since 2009, and if it wasn't for Safe Harbor and the people that run it, I'm pretty sure I would be a statistic, I wouldn't be here," said Navy Senior Chief Damage Controlman John Flanagan. "When you first start getting treated, it's a huge hit to your ego. You feel worthless, like you can't lead people. You get in your head and you can't get out; you get trapped."
The symposium was coordinated by Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) - Safe Harbor staff members in Naval District Washington, who provide assistance to more than 100 seriously wounded, ill and injured service members throughout the region. More than 70 people attended the event, including medical professionals, wounded warrior and veteran support organizations, and enrollees and their family members.
The goal of the symposium was to hear directly from the families of NWW enrollees about their experiences, their ups and their downs, since learning of their loved ones' injury or illness. Their testimonials will inform the delivery of non-medical services - nationally and in Naval District Washington - to current and future NWW enrollees and their caregivers.
"This event is an opportunity for you to come together and share common experiences," said NWW Director Navy Capt. Brent Breining while addressing the panelists and the families in the audience. "Hopefully, at the end of the day, you'll have a better understanding of the resources available to you. And you'll be reminded that you are not in this alone."
"The person next to you may not share the exact same story, but they also have been handed something in life that was unexpected," he added.
The symposium also included brief lectures on PTSD and TBI from experts who treat wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center located on NSAB. They shared insights about symptoms, diagnoses and the latest developments in treatment.
"Only two thirds of those with PTSD will get help in their lifetime," said Navy Cmdr. James West, who works at the department of psychiatry at the Uniform Services University of the Health Sciences' F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine, also located on NSAB. "Treatment for PTSD is not easy, and it requires a lot of ongoing support. These are just some of the barriers we have to overcome to help people get the treatment they need."
The event concluded with a resource fair featuring various wounded warrior and veteran support organizations, such as the Office of Warrior Care Policy, the Semper Fi Fund and Operation Homefront.
"For anybody out there who has a family member with PTSD, and you are dealing with it, you need to get counseling too," said Ida Malone, wife of Navy Chief Logistics Specialist Averill Malone, a wounded warrior. "It's a strain for you, too. We go through so much in life, and a lot of times you don't realize that you're dealing with stuff, as well."
Throughout the month of November, NWW and other wounded warrior support programs will host a variety of activities and highlight stories of recovery and personal triumph. Warrior Care Month is not only about what is being done for our nation's wounded, ill and injured service members, but also about what they do for us, how they continually give back to our communities, their families, and our nation that they have sacrificed so much to protect.
For more information about Warrior Care Month activities or wounded warrior resources, visit http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil or www.facebook.com/navysafeharbor.
For more news from Commander, Navy Installations Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cni/.