Oct 21, 2008


For years the Silver Star Families of America, along with other wonderful organizations, has fought against the stigma associated with PTS. It seems that PTS is one of the few remaining wounds of war that people don’t want to talk about.

Yes, I said “wounds.” Just like a civilian, a Soldier comes from God as a complete package; body, mind and soul. Wounds of the mind can be as devastating as wounds of the body. You cannot amputate a wounded mind.

Further, PTS affects not only the Soldier but family and friends. Secondary PTS is a known scientific fact and must also be recognized and treated.

PTS is not a personality disorder; it is a result of war or an experience so far out of the ordinary that the mind doesn’t know what to do.

The mission of the SSFOA is to remember, honor and assist the wounded. We help people to remember by giving the wounded a Silver Star Banner. When people see a Banner or a Silver Star Flag they KNOW it represents the sacrifice so many have made for us, in blood and in pain, in mind and in body.

And the Silver Star Banner also means a lot more to some people. The letter below is from a relative of a Soldier with PTSD and it shows the effect of honoring our children with PTS instead of stigmatizing them.

“ I would like to explain something.....He refused to acknowledge to the public, friends, or even family that he had PTS and then he received the banner and certificate, since the time the banner was hung...and I mean starting that very day... he has done speaking engagements for the War Memorial Building here in our city, Veterans Day ceremonies, churches, schools, and a few other places, he is also no longer afraid to tell people this is one of the affects war can bring to some. Plus he has performed Taps at the VA and for a few burial services since his return home. He suffers a great deal.....but is trying to get through things. Why did it all change that day? He opened the envelope with the certificate and banner and realized someone was recognizing him as an injured member.....not to be made fun of....it was then that he accepted the fact that it was alright to say he was hurting. My husband and I both noticed a big change starting right after he opened the envelope and have commented on it numerous times. SSFOA changed his thinking.”

This young person struggles EVERY day. He fights on in a war that for him is not over and may never be over. May God bless him and give him peace.

My friends we must continue the fight for our children. To not do so would not only be reprehensible but will result in a new generation of homeless veterans that suffer from PTS. If we do not press forward NOW it will be too late.

Let’s use this young persons struggle as an inspiration to us to fight on just as he has had to fight on.

The SSFOA will continue to honor the heroes of this and all wars who have paid an awful price for our freedom.

They paid with their peace of mind.

Steve Newton, Founder SSFOA


Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder present challenges for the criminal justice systemby Dan Heilman Associate Editor

• As of Sept. 10, 1.717 million U.S. troops have been deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• About 300,000 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

• A further 320,000 have been diagnosed with symptoms related to traumatic brain injury. When Hector Matascastillo found himself in an armed standoff with eight police officers on the front yard of his Lakeville home early in 2004, in his mind he was doing what he’d been trained to do, and what came naturally to him: operating on survival mode, with no thought for the context of his actions.

It was only after he was arrested and jailed that Matascastillo, a Bronze Star recipient who served in Iraq with the 75th Ranger Regiment of the U.S. Army, realized first-hand the challenges that veterans face on their return to society, and the precarious position more and more of them find themselves in when they encounter the criminal justice system.

Matascastillo, who now works as a veterans’ employment representative for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, told a recent seminar sponsored by the Ramsey County Bar Association that some combat veterans have “an addiction to chaos” that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, in turn, can often lead to conflicts not only within the veteran’s home life, but also with authorities.

“We have a mentality that says there’s nothing we can’t do, and that we have to be on 100 percent of the time,” he said of combat veterans. “We have to be in survival mode.
“One of the soldiers I served with is facing jail time for two DWIs in two months. Another one gets in fights in bars because he can’t stop wanting to fight,” Matascastillo said. “Neither of them was like that before they joined the military.”

A new kind of veteranAdvertisement PTSD — or what used to be called by such less euphemistic names as combat fatigue and shell shock — has been a reality of war for centuries. In “The Iliad,” which dates back to the 8th or 9th century B.C., Homer depicts Achilles’ psychological breakdown during the Trojan War.

But the abolition of the draft has brought about a new kind of veteran, one who is called up for two, three and sometimes more tours of duty. According to experts who spoke at the seminar, the criminal justice system is due for a flood of offenders with military backgrounds unless something proactive is done to get them the help they need.

“We’ve had 1.7 million people deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost half of them have gone back more than once,” said Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Brockton Hunter, who works extensively with veteran defendants. “About 600,000 of those people have PTSD or TBI [traumatic brain injury], and less than half of them get the help they need. Those are the ones who pop up in the criminal courts.”

Hunter said combat trauma can be linked to criminal behavior in two ways: Symptoms of PTSD can incidentally lead to criminal behavior, or offenses can be directly connected to the trauma the veteran experienced. For example, he noted, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans are homeless, addicted or incarcerated 35 years after the last American troops were brought back from that war.

The numbers from the Iraqi and Afghani wars are shaping up to be even more troubling. Recent figures from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration show that more than half of the veteran patients are being treated for disorders deriving from PTSD and other mental health issues.
“We’ve asked more of [troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan] than we’ve asked of any force in history,” Hunter said. “To me, the path these people follow is a no-brainer: self-medicate, hair-trigger temper, encounter with police. We will pay the price in the long run.”

Progress in Minnesota

Strides are being made in how the criminal justice system deals with veterans, but, for a number of reasons progress is slow.
For one thing, a veteran’s pride in his military career will often keep him from identifying himself in criminal court, for fear of dishonoring his uniform. Also, because veterans come from a warrior culture, they often see a diagnosis of PTSD as a concession to weakness, so often mental illnesses among veterans go undiagnosed.

“What’s helpful in war isn’t so helpful in society,” said Lt. Col. Cynthia Rasmussen, a mental health nurse in the Army Reserves. “Vigilance in war means being suspicious of everyone. In war, anger is useful and protective. Back here, those mindsets get you in trouble.”
Fortunately, Minnesota is ahead of the curve when it comes to making concessions for veteran offenders. With help from veterans’ advocate Guy Gambill, the state Legislature this year amended a state statute to take into account the mental health status of veterans during the sentencing phase of criminal proceedings.

Now, if a defendant in Minnesota is convicted of a crime, it’s recommended that the court ask if he or she is a veteran. If the defendant is a veteran and has been diagnosed as having a mental illness, the court may consult with the federal or state Department of Veterans Affairs to determine treatment options in lieu of or along with a jail sentence.

The amended bill was unusual in that it had broad, bipartisan support — not only from Republicans and Democrats, but from such naturally contrary bodies as the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the Minnesota State Public Defenders.

The amended statute was modeled in part on a 2007 California initiative that lets judges depart from presumptive prison sentences in cases involving veterans with PTSD, and, when suitable, order treatment in lieu of jail time.

While the Minnesota bill is somewhat stripped down in that it doesn’t provide for a registration system for veterans with PTSD or for psychological evaluations, it’s a good start, said Gambill.
“We’re in the lead in the country when it comes to this,” he said. “It gives the court treatment options it didn’t have before.”

Hunter said that the military is doing more to screen and treat PTSD. The Veterans Administration is also expanding its treatment capacity, he added.

Rasmussen, who often speaks on behalf of veterans’ issues, said the key to preventing veterans from becoming criminal defendants is to create an understanding that when they come home, they’re entering what has become a foreign world.

“Going off to war is easy,” she said. “Coming home, nobody knows what to expect.”

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