Prince Harry, Former President Bush Stress Importance of Healing Invisible Wounds

Prince Harry, Former President Bush Stress Importance of Healing Invisible Wounds
By Shannon Collins 
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

ORLANDO, Fla., May 10, 2016  Great Britains Prince Harry, former President George W. Bush, and service members from each of their nations led a discussion at the 2016 Invictus Games Symposium on Invisible Wounds presented May 8 by the George W. Bush Institute here.

Former First Lady Laura Bush said she and the Bush Institute leadership were grateful the symposium was addressing an issue that affects so many veterans, as well as their family members, many of whom become their caregivers.


George and I are committed to caring for our veterans and their families through the Bush Institute, she said. We celebrate the service and sacrifice of our veterans at the 100-kilometer bike ride we host at our ranch and at the Warrior Open, a competitive golf tournament held in Dallas. We listen to the warriors tell their stories -- their triumphs and their struggles. Through these testimonies, weve recognized that the invisible wounds are not treated in the same way as the visible wounds, and thats why were here today, to educate more people about those invisible wounds.

*Getting Help Quickly*

Prince Harry said the Invictus Games in 2014 in London smashed the stigma around physical injuries, and that he hopes this years Invictus Games can do the same for invisible injuries. 

The prince, who served in Afghanistan as a combat helicopter pilot, recently acknowledged that he has post-traumatic stress to bring light to the importance of recognizing invisible injuries. He said the key to fixing the problem is speaking out and using the resources available.

Ive spoken to everybody who has severe PTSD, through to minor depression, anxiety, whatever it may be, and everybody says the same thing: if you can deal with it soon enough, if you deal with it quick enough and actually have the ability and platform to be able to speak about it openly, then you can fix these problems, he said. If you cant fix them, you can at least find coping mechanisms. Theres no reason why people should be hiding in shame after theyve served their country.

*Special Forces Using Support Network*

Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, known as DT, was severely burned over 80 percent of his body during an improvised explosion device explosion in Afghanistan, and he said many people would just focus on his physical injury when he needed to admit he needed help with his invisible injuries as well. He said he comes from a career field, Air Force tactical control party, in which service members dont want people to know theyre hurt mentally. 

We want to show we can still do the fight and can still go out there and do what we want to do so we hide it, he said, but luckily I had some good family support and friends and teammates who were there.

Royal Marines Lance Cpl. John-James Chalmers, a commando who goes by the nickname JJ, was caught in the center of a blast in Afghanistan, and half of his team was killed or injured. 

I was taken out by a helicopter and woke up in a hospital bed and received the care I needed, and these guys went on with their job that day. Things only got worse in many respects, he said. I consider myself extremely lucky I came back from Afghanistan broken physically, but mentally, I was still the same person who went to Afghanistan and came back, and this was probably because I had a great support network from my family, my wife now and a few people along the way that if I hadnt had some casual conversations, theres a good chance I wouldnt be sitting here doing this now.

*Not All Will Admit They Need Help*

Prince Harry said not all commandos will admit they need help. Commandos and paras are very strong minded, and theyre probably the last people to come forward if they had a mental health issue, he said. The first step is admitting you need to seek help. Just being able to talk about it early on is a huge, huge deal.

Chalmers said service members are trained to block away their emotions and get on with the job, but that at the end of the day, were just human beings.

I consider myself extremely lucky I came back in one piece, he added, but this has been a struggle, and Ive had my friends beside me throughout this process.

*Better Awareness*

Both the prince and the former president said people with invisible wounds need better education of resources available for them and better access to care. They also said symposiums like this offer a chance for leadership and athletes from different countries to share knowledge.

Del Toro said the Invictus Games also gives the athletes a chance to showcase how the athletes can overcome their invisible wounds and hopefully inspire others who may still be battling their injuries. I want the opportunity to give everybody a voice and be able to change the narrative because our stories albeit some elements have tragedy within them but they are stories of triumph at the end of the day, he said.

Bush said hes pleased 13 other nations are participating in the Games, because invisible injuries relates to everyone. This is an issue that relates to every vet, not just American vets, he said.

Prince Harry said he encourages business leaders to hire service members who leave the service. If I ran a business, I would want individuals like them, for the training theyve had and for the values they stand up for, he said.

*Personal Story*

Medically retired Army Staff Sgt. Randi Gavell, who will compete in track and field and swimming, shared her personal story at the symposium. 

Events like this really bring awareness to things that other people may overlook or just dont understand so being able to, although shaking like a leaf, being able to go up there and speak about who I am and show people that this is who I am now, who I was and where Im coming from and who I still am is great, she said. Its still a big part of my life. Its an opportunity for me to speak for other people and to hopefully give them a piece of hope at the same time.

Gavell said the panel was phenomenal.

It was fun to hear them, with DT and JJ kind of [going] back and forth, and see their humor come out a little bit and embrace the seriousness of the issue, but also know that we military members still find the humor in our everyday lives. It was pretty fantastic, she said. 

Del Toro said he enjoyed it as well, and that Bush always busts my chops. He was honored to be on the panel, he added, and to spread the word about invisible injuries. 

We really need to fix this, he said. If you keep saying everythings great, its never going to change. As long as you stay vocal, thats when things start changing. If you have the opportunity to talk to somebody, especially somebody who can make a difference, be vocal.

*Veterans Can Make Huge Contributions*

Bush said many U.S. citizens say they have a miserable life, but do not have nearly the comeback stories as disabled veterans like the ones competing at Invictus. 

Our vets want help, but they dont want pity, the former president said. Our vets can make huge contributions. Our vets set such an incredibly good example for people.

Prince Harry said veterans deserve more than just thanks you for their service.

You lead by example, which is incredibly important in todays world, and its an amazing foundation to start with but now weve gotten to where it needs to be more than that, he said. We need to open our doors to these amazing individuals because we value these people. Theyre the ones whove put their lives on the line. Their families have sacrificed everything. They deserve so much more than a shake of the hand and a thank you.

Related Links

2016 Invictus Games [ ]

Special Report: 2016 Invictus Games [ ] 

Special Report: Warrior Care [ ]