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Mental Stress is like a ‘Check Engine Light’ Flashing–Don’t Ignore It

Image of Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason David talks about his  journey of recovery through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program during a video conversation with Defense Health Agency Command Sgt. Major Michael Gragg. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason David spoke about his own journey of recovery through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program during a video conversation with Defense Health Agency Command Sgt. Major Michael Gragg at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Nov. 19.

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For one Air Force senior enlisted leader, the problem of “combat stress” and the toll it takes on warfighters – and often on their families, too – continues to be an issue that the military community struggles to fully understand.

“Sometimes they don’t feel right about only having mental injuries. They don’t think it’s a big deal, but it is,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason David, the chief enlisted manager for the Defense Media Activity.

David spoke about his own journey of recovery through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program during a video conversation with Defense Health Agency Command Sgt. Major Michael Gragg at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, Nov. 19. They were both attending Virtual CARE Week events as part of the DOD’s Warrior Care Month observance.

David was seriously wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and said he “had a hard time with recovery in general.” He later was deployed to Afghanistan, and made use both times of mental health care services available to troops and veterans as part of his recovery.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve seen a psychiatrist. I'm not ashamed to say I’ve been to behavioral or mental health care,” he told Gragg during their conversation during the Day of Healing events

David also spoke about the continued societal stigmatization of wounded warriors.

“Aside from the physical [injuries], the mental stress – they call it combat stress – that is a bizarre concept for folks that are not serving, who haven’t served, or don’t know anyone who has served in the armed forces,” he said.

The physical and mental recovery “takes a toll on yourself, your family, and your livelihood.”

And for those who have invisible wounds, the burden can even be bigger, David said.

He used the analogy of an automobile engine warning light to help explain the effects that psychological injuries can have.

“What happens when your check engine light turns on? Do you just ignore it until your engine stops or are you responsible because you’re thinking about the longer game, you’re thinking about the big picture?”

“You don’t know if it’s going to be a dramatic chain of events that’s going to ultimately hurt you in the long run.”

The priority placed on mental health and total force fitness reflects a generational change for many senior leaders, David said.

“Leaders should include Warrior Care in their toolbox,” David said. “You can’t be the leader you grew up with today in 2021. You have to evolve” in your thoughts and actions about wounded warriors and warrior care.

“You have to be a different leader. What worked 20 to 30 years ago won’t work today.”

Visit the Defense Health Agency Facebook page for more of the interview with David.

In addition to Warrior Care programs and each Service’s treatment programs, Military OneSource provides wounded warrior specialty consultation services to help eligible wounded, ill or injured service members, veterans and their families get immediate assistance for issues related to health care, resources, facilities and benefits. Service members and veterans injured in accidents or battling serious illnesses are also eligible.

For help with thoughts of suicide, contact the Military & Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 and select Option 1

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The guidance contained in this CR represents a review of currently published literature and expert contributions obtained by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) in collaboration with clinical subject matter experts representing the Services, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), academic, research and civilian sectors.

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