By EMMALEE C. TORISK
It took Leo H. Connelly Jr. decades to talk about what he refers to as his “hidden scars of war.”
When Connelly, 67, who now serves as commissioner of the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission and as commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 2, returned to the U.S. in 1968 from a yearlong tour of duty in Vietnam, talking about those things just wasn’t “fashionable,” he said.
So, into his 50s, Connelly quietly dealt with the myriad symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. He wishes that diagnosis and treatment had come earlier, though.
“It would’ve saved me from a lot,” Connelly said.
That’s why Connelly said he “100 percent” supports the Significant Event Tracker Act, a piece of legislation introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, and presented Thursday morning to those gathered at VFW Post 3538, 157 Lowellville Road.
Brown was joined by Michael Fairman, an Ohio combat veteran who has dealt with PTSD and helped to craft the SET Act, along with Anthony Kennedy, a Youngstown State University student and a veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD, and James Dill, the post’s commander.
Though almost 300,000 American veterans struggle with PTSD, and an additional 25,000 with mild traumatic brain injuries, many veterans face another hurdle: proving the connection between those issues and their previous military service. Doing so is essential for veterans to file compensation and disability claims, or to seek medical care.
“Veterans should be able to focus on their recovery, not proving the cause of their injury,” Brown said.
Though evidence may come in the form of written testimony from other service members who witnessed the incident, relevant medical documentation or military orders that prove the veteran was in an affected location or unit, many of these traumatic events and so-called minor injuries go by undocumented, Brown said.
These secondary accounts also may not provide a full account of the claim, while testimonies likely would be cobbled together from witnesses years after the fact.
The SET, however, would “put some of the responsibility back on the individual,” Fairman said. It would allow service members to self-report exposure to traumatic events, along with any injuries not otherwise documented, to an online system that would add those verified pieces of information to an individual’s medical history.
“We recognize these things as injuries now,” said Fairman, who has been serving on and off in the Navy since 1987, and also has a son in the military. “We need to do something for our future warriors.”
Kennedy added that the creation of an individualized SET is needed. He acknowledged that the “momentum of war” often doesn’t allow those in the midst of it to both “lead the battle and record the battle,” leaving many incidents unrecorded — and causing frustration for veterans later.
The SET Act is a win for everyone, including veterans and the organizations designed to help them, he said.
Connelly, for one, said he’s just hopeful that the next generation of service members won’t have to endure what he did, thanks to this “long overdue” piece of legislation.
“We’re getting a better grip on what tools we need to treat this,” Connelly said, “and I welcome this tool.”