NFL Stars and Vets Support Injured Servicemembers

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It is important for everyone to understand the needs of servicemembers returning from combat deployments, Army Brig. Gen. Richard Thomas, assistant surgeon general for force protection, said during an interview with The Pentagon Channel at the Super Bowl media center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A substantial number of servicemembers returning from deployment have sustained some type of traumatic brain injury, Thomas said.

Thomas was joined by NFL stars Eric Hipple, a former quarterback for the Detroit Lions who is now the outreach coordinator with the University of Michigan Depression Center, and Rocky Bleier, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient and four-time Super Bowl winner.

Bleier has documented the problems he had after returning from Vietnam. He noted that both troops who return from war and NFL players who have retired from football often are reluctant to seek help for problems due to the stigma attached to counseling. Hipple added that when you don't ask for help, problems can get worse.

"Identifying the symptoms early on is huge," Hipple said. He explained that soldiers develop separation anxiety, which can lead to other issues such as clinical depression. And, he said that many mental health conditions constitute brain injuries, and like physical injuries, they need to be treated to heal.

The impact of the trauma some former football players feel is compounded for servicemembers, Bleier said.

"When football is over, you're out, you're done," he said. But for those who have served in the military, it's "a double trauma."

Former servicemembers have to find a job, "and if they do find a job and they also have these mental health issues, then they have to have a supportive workplace that will allow them to deal with these issues," Bleier said.

There are vehicles for servicemembers to get help for medical problems, Thomas said, but they "have to initiate the process."

Bleier recommended that one step in the right direction is for servicemembers to take the master resiliency training that is part of the comprehensive soldier fitness program.

(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Selby is assigned to Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media Directorate.)

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