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Soldier's sister fighting 'hidden wounds' to prevent military suicides

Anna Bigham

Anna Bigham started the nonprofit Hidden Wounds to raise awareness about PTSD and help prevent military suicides. (WRDW-TV / Sept. 9, 2011)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, Sept. 9, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this Sunday, we also mark 10 years this country has been at war. Many soldiers returning home suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In just the past year, the number of PTSD cases have increased 50 percent. Studies show one in five people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is fighting it. More than 300,000 soldiers deployed in the past three years have PTSD, which can lead to an array of problems, including suicide.

For soldiers returning from war, psychological injuries can be just as devastating as physical ones. September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Fort Gordon is hoping to help bring awareness to PTSD and suicide prevention.

Now one soldier's sister is helping heal those hidden wounds.

"My brother was the biggest jokester ever!" said Anna Bigham as she flipped through pictures of her brother, LCpl. Mills Bigham.

Mills was a Marine to the core. He also suffered from PTSD. On Oct. 19, 2009, his depression turned to desperation.

"The day my brother took his own life, my life, my life changed completely," Bigham said. "For more than a year after my brother's suicide, I was completely numb. It was very frustrating not to feel the smile that was on my face, or even anger or sadness. It's like having to learn how to feel again. "

Nearly two years later Bigham is now not only feeling, she is talking -- talking to veterans and soldiers about how to save lives.

Bigham founded the nonprofit group Hidden Wounds, which offers a lifeline to soldiers with PTSD. They help soldiers like Cpl. Steven Diaz, who was blinded by an explosion in Iraq.

"The training that we go through prepares us for the physical combat," Diaz said. "But they don't really prepare us for the mental side of it."

Diaz is now a Vet Peer, a counselor with Hidden Wounds. He counsels suicidal soldiers in emergency situations, whether he needs to call or visit them.

"PTSD is not an end to anyone," Diaz said. "Yes, it's an issue we're going to have to deal with. But we've been trained with the military to adapt and overcome."

Steven says showing other soldiers the light at the end of the tunnel helps him, too.

"I know the signs of PTSD because I've been there," he said. "I'm still going through it. I look for them, and I'll reach out to them. I won't be pushy. But I say this is who [Hidden Wounds} is ... and we're here when you're ready to talk."

Bigham uses speaking engagements as part of her personal therapy.

"It's very healing for me to be able to talk about my experience because I know I'm helping other families and other veterans," she said.

Bigham says the second year after her brother's death has been even harder. She and her family were used to him being away for holidays and birthdays for a year at a time while he was enlisted. Now they're having to accept he really won't be home from war this time.

Both Bigham and Diaz hope to shed light on suicide and ultimately heal those hidden wounds.

Anyone suffering with PTSD or having thoughts about suicide can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Please tell them you are a veteran.

"Hidden Wounds" has more than 5,500 Vet Peers in the U.S. who can help -- 500 Vet Peers are in South Carolina alone.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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