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Still Devoted to the Troops, Especially Suffering Veterans

ARLINGTON, VA - JANUARY 19: Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon January 19, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. Gen. Chiarelli spoke on the details of the Army's 'Generating Health & Discipline in the Force' report, a follow-up to the Army's 'Health Promotion/Risk Reduction/Suicide Prevention' report, published in July 2010. The Army suicide statistics for calendar year 2011 was also discussed. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Mike Magner
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Mike Magner
Feb. 23, 2014, 7 a.m.

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.

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