He ended a 40-year career in the Army two years ago, but retired Gen. Pete Chiarelli has not abandoned his troops. Far from it.
Former President George W. Bush made that clear last week when he singled out Chiarelli for his efforts on behalf of veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress, the sense of fear or terror that strikes people long after they have lived through a horrible ordeal. It has primarily been known as PTSD — until Chiarelli suggested toward the end of his Army career that the word "disorder" should be dropped to help reduce the stigma of the affliction.
"We are going to use our platform to make clear that veterans receiving treatment for posttraumatic stress are not damaged goods, they are not mentally shattered," Bush said at a summit on veterans' issues at his presidential center in Texas. "They are people who got hurt defending our country and are now overcoming wounds"¦.
"One of the leaders in this area is retired General Pete Chiarelli," Bush said. "Pete has made it his mission to spread the word about the science behind PTS and the medical treatment that veterans can receive."
After two tours in Iraq, Chiarelli made it a top priority as the Army's vice chief of staff to address the suffering he saw among troops and veterans who experienced either PTS or traumatic brain injury. The Department of Veterans' Affairs estimates that as many as one in five veterans who were in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTS or TBI.
"I've studied TBI very, very hard and PTSD very, very hard," Chiarelli said in an interview on the PBS program Frontline in 2010. "The whole stigma issue is a huge problem"¦. But one of the things that I've found, studying suicide and behavioral health, is that [although] we want everyone who has these issues to seek that professional help, it's not a panacea. It won't solve everything.
"It takes a total program of not only mental-health but substance-abuse [counseling] and family programs that help families reintegrate and members of the family to understand what the symptoms are and get their loved one the help they need when they need it."
At Chiarelli's retirement ceremony in March 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised the general's compassion for the troops. "If there is one thing that has been the hallmark of Pete's career, it is the depth of his concern for the welfare of every soldier," Panetta said.
Chiarelli broke down at the ceremony when he mentioned that 650 soldiers died under his command in Iraq. "I would trade all the medals and ribbons on my chest and every bit of rank to get just one of them back," he said.
Just a few weeks after his retirement, Chiarelli became the CEO at One Mind for Research, a California-based nonprofit "dedicated to curing the diseases of the brain and eliminating the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and brain injuries."
The group's cochairman, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said Chiarelli was the obvious choice for the position. "General Chiarelli has demonstrated incredible dedication and passion throughout his career, and we could not be more pleased for him to continue his tradition of excellence — especially in addressing brain disorders — with One Mind for Research," Kennedy said.