Crapo leads panel to speak on PTSD, veterans services

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, right, talks during a panel discussion about post-traumatic stress disorder Friday at the Twin Falls Armory. Vet Center Veterans Outreach Program Specialist Dan Ashley, left, and Mountain Home Air Force Base Capt. Ashley Ertel, center, listen.

HEATHER KENNISON, TIMES-NEWS

TWIN FALLS — When he left his 3-year-old son and family behind to go serve in Baghdad, Dan Ashley fought another battle inside.

“You’re suffering between the loyalty of your family and the loyalty for your nation,” he told a room of veterans and veteran service groups on Friday. “…You’re struggling with your safety, is your family safe?”

He recalled how, fighting enemies seen and unseen, he was physically pushed to extremes in another climate and witnessed others getting injured in combat.

“There’s a big emotional impact,” Ashley said. “You have to process this at some point in time.”

He now works as the veterans outreach program specialist for the Vet Center, a nonprofit center funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide free counseling services. Ashley spoke as part of a panel June 2 to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, led the panel at the Twin Falls Armory and also took the opportunity to inform people about a recent piece of legislation he introduced to streamline veterans health care.

“My hope is that we significantly increase the awareness of the people in Idaho of the stress that PTSD brings into the lives of the men and women who put their lives on the line,” Crapo said.

June is a national awareness month for PTSD.

Also speaking on the panel were representatives from the Boise VA Medical Center, the Idaho National Guard and the Mountain Home Air Force Base. A key part of their message: There is help available.

“If they go into the Armory and ask, we’ll point them in the right direction,” said Major Doug Uphoff, Idaho Army National Guard’s state family program director.

Coming forward and asking for help so you can move on with your life is a sign of strength, he said.

PTSD tends to impact a person’s entire life in some fashion, said Dr. Mandi Dietz, PTSD clinical team lead for the Boise VA Medical Center. Frequently, those with the disorder try to isolate themselves, even from their families. The Boise VA Medical Center encourages them to get involved in their communities.

The Vet Center has offices in Boise and Pocatello, but sends its mobile vet center to Twin Falls every other Friday, Ashley said. The unit sets up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Snake Harley-Davidson. Information: Call 208-342-3612.

VFW District 6 Commander Melanie Foster said there tends to be a misconception that PTSD is some kind of “monster” that manifests in loud or violent ways.

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“It’s not necessarily throwing things against the wall,” she said following the panel’s discussion. “It’s not always the extreme. There are subtleties to it as well.”

Foster served in the Army in Iraq in 2003, and has found the VFW one of the biggest resources available for today’s combat veterans, despite the fact that many of the members are Vietnam veterans.

“It’s different wars, but the same battle,” she said.

Veterans Health Administration Reform Act

Crapo introduced his new legislation last week and is seeking a co-sponsor.

“Its strongest focus is increasing access to care in the community,” Crapo said. “Part of it is simplifying the numerous choice programs in existence into one program.”

This “Care in the Community Program” allows the VA to refer veterans into the community for care when it’s in their best interest. It will also require the VA to pay providers in a timely fashion, and coordinate with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services so ensure a veteran has the flexibility to use his or her VA benefits with other benefits.

The Veterans Health Administration Reform Act of 2017 builds on legislation Crapo introduced last year.

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