pittsafg Medal of Honor recipient fighting new battle for veterans mental healthcare

Ryan Pitts served in the Army from ’03-’09, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the July ’08 Battle of Wanat, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy Ryan Pitts)

By Eric Dehm

Army veteran Ryan Pitts was awarded our nation’s highest military honor for his actions during the battle of Wanat in Afghanistan. Had he returned home to a life of peaceful solitude, living life out of the spotlight, it is hard to imagine anyone would blame him. But Pitts says his mission to assist his brothers and sisters in arms did not end when he took off the uniform for the last time.

Pitts’ current mission is to be an advocate for veterans mental healthcare, specifically through the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN).

Pitts says he’s seen too many veterans not seeking health that’s readily available to them, and was more than willing to lend his voice to the cause, along with any extra gravitas that the voice of a Medal of Honor recipient brings to the matter.

“We’re too hard on ourselves as veterans,” Pitts says “We’re all sitting back and thinking ‘if I go get this mental healthcare it’s weakness’ for some reason… if we get wounded, physical wounds, you almost kind of wear it like it’s a badge of honor. You puff your chest up a little bit and you’re proud, right? Because you’ve been there where the rubber meets the road. But we don’t have that same perception of I’ll call it the ‘brain health’ issues. We need to change that.”

One thing Pitts believes will change the way veterans see their mental health issues is the results of research underway at the bioscience arm of CVN. That research is being discussed at the Cohen Veterans Summit in Washington, DC September 27-28 and Pitts believes when the research is concluded it will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt to veterans that declining mental health is not weakness, or a mental toughness issue that they need to just man up and power through.

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Manager Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees greets Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts before a game against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

“There are physical changes going on there and that’s one of the things that’s happening at this summit,” Pitts says.

“Cohen Veterans Bioscience is looking at brain health, looking at biomarkers, looking at images and there’s gonna be some great work that comes out of that. When you start being able to show men and women ‘look, your brain is changed’ it’s going to show the physical aspect that’s manifested as this emotional or behavioral aspect and it’s going to legitimize it.”

Pitts says that his status as a MoH recipient is something he treats with the utmost respect, seeing the medal as representative not of his actions, but of his team and those who were lost in the battle. It is for that reason that he doesn’t take the decision to use that status to benefit an organization lightly. So it’s telling that once he learned what CVN was doing, he joined their cause without hesitation. He says he saw a clear opportunity to help his fellow veterans.

“That’s just what I am trying to do, is try and help veterans get out there and get the help that they need to live the life that they’ve earned.”

Connect: @EricDehm | Eric@ConnectingVets.com

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