This is what courage looks like.
Mary Southerland is one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. She was one of the thousands of civilians employed by military contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan. She returned home suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In her own words:
Before the incidents that caused my disorder occurred, I doubted the diagnosis. I believed it was an ‘invented excuse’ or ‘weakness’- I am embarrassed of this prior opinion.
After over 7 months of fighting for benefits, I can no longer permit the disorder and the struggle for help allow me to be ashamed, humiliated and trapped. To get well (or a new ‘well’), I am going stand up for myself and others enduring this process and break the stigma of a psychiatric injury.
Although Mary and her fellow contractors have been stalled on or refused benefits by their employers (the contractors), her admiration for the servicemen and servicewomen next to whom she worked inspires her to put them first.
Before the needs of contractors are addressed, we need to take care of our military members.
Mary — with the help of her service dog, Henry, and her support team — is kayaking down the Ohio river, stopping and speaking wherever she’s invited. Her determination is to raise awareness of the PTSD suffered by our military and the contractors the United States government hires to supplement or substitute for enlisted troops. She carries with her a petition from the Purple Star Families, urging better mental health care for service members and better and more quickly accessible mental health benefits for veterans.
Although her PTSD makes it difficult for Mary to be in crowds, especially to speak before them, she faces that stress at every opportunity she’s given in order to advocate for her former comrades, her fellow contractor employees, and herself.
Please visit her website, A Contractor And Her Dog, to read more about her, about PTSD, and, of course, about Henry. Sign the Purple Star Families petition. Read this Pro Publica report on what it calls the Disposable Army. Contact your elected officials.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Do something.