WASHINGTON — Brig. Gen. Ernest Litynski has received numerous awards and decorations during his nearly three decades in the Army. But he is best known among soldiers and his superiors for his campaign to illuminate mental health issues among troops, scraping away at the stigma that often leads to tragedy.
In meetings with new formations of Army Reserve troops, he tells the story of his own unraveling after he returned from Afghanistan.
“I removed myself from everybody between 2007 and 2010,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t go to family parties, events, wouldn’t go out with my family to eat. I would turn the TV on just for noise. I would not go up to bed with my wife. The burden I put on my wife and 12-year-old daughter had to be the worst.”
He tells his story at ceremonies and gatherings and made a video the Army has posted to some of its Facebook accounts. “There’s a shame if you show weakness,” he says, voice wavering as he recounts his struggles with post-traumatic stress. “That’s the way I felt.”
Litynski’s campaign is a striking one within the military, where resilience is not just celebrated but part of the job description.
After two decades of war, the military has yet to make significant progress on what many experts, lawmakers and service members say are among its most persistent problems: unaddressed mental health issues and rising suicide rates among troops.
The suicide rate among active-duty service members increased by more than 40% from 2015 to 2020, according to Defense Department data.
While many applaud Litynski’s efforts, veterans who had mental health issues while serving said the military needed to do much more, like improve health screenings of new recruits. Training must change, and leaders must learn to address problems before they spiral, they say.
“There is stigma. It persists, and it is real,” said Elizabeth S. Pietralczyk, a family doctor in Alaska who joined the Air Force in 2003 to assist with medical school. She left the military in 2021 before hitting her lifetime pension award, she said, because of her mental health struggles. “People doubt your sincerity when you’ve done an amazing job at handling everything up until it implodes,” she said. “It is a common story.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Source: Orange County Register