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Invisible wounds: Finding a voice

Invisible Wounds Panel

Individuals from the Invisible Wounds panel speak during Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

Invisible Wounds Panel

Maj. Gen. Kimberly Crider, mobilization assistant to the Under Secretary of the Air Force, speaks during the Invisible Wounds panel during Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

Invisible Wounds Panel

Retired Tech. Sgt. Joshua Smith, Air Force wounded warrior, speaks as part of the Invisible Wounds panel during the Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (AFNS) -- Air Force leadership and wounded warriors came together to speak out on invisible wounds during a panel discussion at this year’s Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Sept. 18, 2017.

“There is no book about what to expect when you or a loved one is dealing with wounds that can’t be seen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Nicole Johnson, Air Force Wounded Warrior program chief enlisted manager. “Because there is no book, we must get these Airmen and their families connected, helped and educated as soon as possible.”

Taking care of Airmen, getting them help and getting them help quickly was the overwhelming theme from the panel.

“It is so critical to our Air Force that we take care of our Airmen,” said Maj. Gen. Kimberly Crider, mobilization assistant to the Under Secretary of the Air Force. “We need programs that are actively being worked, and actively checking on anyone identified with an invisible wound.”

The Air Force is ensuring those working in programs including the Air Force Wounded Warrior’s recovery teams, medical case managers, family liaison officers and recovery care coordinators have everything they need. However, the biggest struggle is getting those who need help to admit when they need help, Crider said.

“My pride almost killed me, I didn’t think these programs were for people who didn’t suffer combat injuries,” said retired Tech. Sgt. Joshua Smith, Air Force wounded warrior. “I was hurt during training, but after attending a few of the Warrior Games camps, I learned that I was part of a family and anyone who is suffering can and should seek help.”

Smith, who was medically retired after 13 years of service, wasn’t the only wounded warrior on the panel who discussed why some people do not get help.

“I was a football player all throughout college,“said Mitchell Kieffer, founder and principal of HardCharger Coaching. “I competed at the highest levels of Air Force track and field, how could I not handle this? I was afraid to be judged, and that kept me from seeking the help I needed, and I know there are other who feel the same.”

While there is no book that gives exact instructions on how to deal with invisible wounds, there are those willing to help. If you or someone you know needs help please call the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and TBI Outreach Center at (866) 966-1020. For confidential assistance, call Military OneSource at (800) 342-9647. Call Vet4Warriors peer support for service members, civilians and family members at (855) 838-8255.