June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Month: Denise Becker recognizes PTSD in her military son, instrumental in finding help, raising awareness and funding for him, other veterans

by Dwight Jones

June is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month. PTSD is a mental health condition that develops in some people who have experienced shocking, scary or dangerous events at some point in their lives. PTSD can originate from any form of trauma, be it assault, rape, abuse, personal experience and countless other life events. It is normal for all individuals to be alarmed or scared when these events occur, but those feelings normally diminish quickly in most individuals.

According to the National Mental Health Institute, “Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months of the traumatic event, but they sometimes emerge later. To meet the criteria for PTSD, a person must have symptoms for longer than one month, and the symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with aspects of daily life, such as relationships or work. The symptoms also must be unrelated to medication, substance use, or other illness.

“People with PTSD often have co-occurring conditions, such as depression, substance use, or one or more anxiety disorders. A mental health professional who has experience helping people with PTSD, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker, can determine whether symptoms meet the criteria for PTSD.”

Medical professionals are trained to understand the changes in personalities and behavior that can be symptoms of PTSD, but friends and family members can also spot when something is wrong, as was the case with Lansing area resident Denise Becker, who had concerns about her son, Jeremy Smerud, who was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. After he returned from his second combat tour in Iraq in 2006, her nursing experience - but more importantly her mother’s intuition - told her that her son needed help.

Jeremy was sent to Afghanistan later that year and returned in 2007, and that was when Denise got busy trying to get her son help. Phone calls to his Command trying to get someone’s attention seemed to fall on deaf ears, so she traveled to Camp Lejeune, NC where Jeremy was stationed, but again struggled to find anyone interested in hearing their story or helping her son.

Denise understood that all soldiers are given mental evaluations and testing prior to enrolling in the service, but at the time Jeremy was struggling, those mental-type issues were deemed not necessarily military induced, and thus not handled the same as a medical issue would have been, up to and including differences in benefits, the handling of discharges when necessary, and so forth.

Denise was eventually able to get the attention of North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, who represented the area that included Camp Lejeune. Jones’ office responded that he agreed that there was a disservice being done here. Denise continued to work with Congressman Jones and make trips to North Carolina to bring awareness to the issues of PTSD as they relate to soldiers and in March 2009, Jones introduced a bill on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that was eventually passed to help resolve the issue of PTSD and/or traumatic brain injuries as they relate to discharges and benefits.

Denise’s efforts to bring awareness to PTSD did not stop there. Tony Seaborn authored a book about PTSD in which he coined the phrase, “If we send them, we must mend them”. Denise has made that her mantra and with the help of friends and family they have continued to raise PTSD awareness and money, a lot of money in fact, totaling $48,500, running in the Chicago Half Marathon a total of ten times. Most of that money was used to help local Veterans.

Denise is very pleased to report that Jeremy is doing well, now 42 years old and retired from the Marines. He lives near Des Moines, has quit drinking alcohol and volunteers his time whenever he can to help fellow Veterans.

As this article is being written, Jeremy is walking the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, a cleansing feat to “walk the war out of my system” first attempted in 1948 by World War II Veteran Earl Shaffer that has since been done by countless other Veterans. Denise is planning to fly out in the coming days to meet Jeremy at the halfway point.

If you or someone you know would like more information on PTSD, talk with your doctor, or there are many other options available at the local, state and national levels, many involving Veterans Affairs offices. The Allamakee County Veterans Services Office is located in the Allamakee County Courthouse at 110 Allamakee Street in Waukon. The office can be reached by telephone at 563-568-6135. Additional information about PTSD, and resources for assistance can be found online at https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp.