PSAs Raise Awareness About Warriors' 'Invisible Wounds'

As a nation, it may be decades before we fully come to terms with the impact of our post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but there are hundreds of thousands of men and women -- and their families -- who deal with it every day, often unaware of what exactly hit them. A new public service campaign for the Wounded Warrior Project by the PlowShare Group aims to increase awareness -- and enlist support for -- the needs of veterans who are recovering from the "invisible wounds of war."

One of three PSAs for television features Norbie, who lost an arm to a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. That wound was apparent, and career changing. But he felt a deeper, more insidious injury within. "When I came home, I felt alone," he says in the spot. "My family was around me but I couldn't talk to them about what I'd seen and what I'd done," he says.

Norbie did not want to live in that condition. Then, after his discharge, he began working with the Wounded Warrior Project in 2007 and learned about post-traumatic stress disorder. Being able to share his story with other veterans, he says, "helps you wrap your mind around" what happened in combat. Norbie now works with other vets suffering from PTSD. The spot ends on an upbeat note:

"My name is Norbie. And, yes, I do suffer from post traumatic stress disorder but I'm okay."

In a blog post about the campaign, John LaRock, PlowShare's head of creative development, writes that the agency originally intended to show what goes through soldiers' minds when they return to civilian life.

"The scenarios, including soldiers reliving the horrors of war at the pop of a balloon or the dialing of a cell phone, proved much too violent to show," he writes. "Instead, we decided to profile soldiers who had benefitted from working with WWP and are managing their PTSD today."

The truth is, TV stations might have been more reluctant to view the ads if they had a harder edge. We like our gritty stories to have a happy ending. Other vets are suffering from major depression, the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and and additional mental illnesses. Another goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of these illnesses among family and loved ones.

"This PSA campaign is integral to educate the general public about combat stress, reduce the stigma associated with this mental health condition, and promote care seeking behavior," says Steve Nardizzi, executive director of Wounded Warrior Project. "We believe that this type of public awareness will go a long way in helping us ensure this generation of veterans is the most successful and well-adjusted in our nation's history."

In the second spot, a grandmother talks about how her grandson "T" couldn't sleep and was "angry all the time" when he returned home. "He felt like he didn't fit in." She says she heard about Wounded Warriors and "I don't know what they do there but now T is smiling again." Then we hear Kevin Costner, who tells us that one out of every five warriors suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The third spot shows one warrior carrying another off the battlefield as Costner's voiceover elicits support from the public.

The campaign, which also features radio spots and materials for newspapers and magazines, began running on Veteran's Day. Contributions, as well as general inquiries to the Wounded Warriors Project's resource center, have both increased since the campaign got under way, according to spokeswoman Becky Melvin, who points out that the organization has 17 projects and is expanding rapidly to meet the long-term physical and emotions needs of post-9/11 veterans.

Costner was a wise and considered choice to deliver the message. "When we were considering voice over talent we originally thought about a strong male voice; the voice of a warrior," La Rock writes. "However, once the spot was produced, we realized a voice counter to that of the warrior would be most effective. Kevin Costner was suggested as someone whose voice is friendly, comforting and would deliver the message poignantly."

He does. And it is a message, as we enter a holiday weekend celebrating two presidents who most notably led our nation through grueling and divisive wars, that we need to pay attention to. Let's help our veterans get their minds and spirits back home, too.

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