An advocate for veterans with PTSD
Connie Walker, Iola, has been named Wisconsin Woman Veteran of the Year.
“Connie is a tireless advocate for Veterans, active duty and their families and the state of Wisconsin is a better place to live for veterans because of people like her,” said Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Daniel Zimmerman in a press release. “Women have played a critical role in our military history, and I am honored to present this award to Connie who has demonstrated time and again dedicated public service.”
Walker is a Navy veteran, who served for 23 years before retiring as a captain.
“I am both flattered and surprised to receive this recognition,” Walker said. “This is so nice. It is rewarding to know that I am making a difference.”
For the past 12 years, Walker has dedicated her time to advocating for others. Her focus is on mental health and health care for veterans and their families.
“My son Michael served in the Army in Iraq,” she said. “When he came home, he just was not the same. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and more. I had to advocate for him, because I know how it is supposed to work. I saw how many vets were not getting the help they needed, especially in rural and frontier areas. Those folks are on their own and I wanted to help.”
She advocates for a variety of people who suffer from invisible wounds.
“This is the most challenging part of what I do for veterans,” she said. “If they lose an arm or a leg, people can see those injuries. But when it comes to mental health, those wounds are not visible and people have a hard time ‘seeing’ that they are there.”
These wounds include traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, depression, self-isolation, chronic pain and more.
“People are turned off right away if you say ‘PTSD’,” she said. “But if you reclassify that by saying a psychiatric injury, they are much more receptive. Then they are more willing to get help because it turns from a stigma into illness.”
Walker reminds all veterans that it is OK to ask for help.
“No one has to do this alone,” she said. “And it’s OK for the families to ask for some attention as well.”
She noted not all veterans coming home have problems.
“The reality is, we can expect 30 percent to have these issues,” she said. “And we have to respond to them. This is not just an issue for them, but for their entire community.”
Along with working for veterans, Walker has also worked to bring the Community Clergy Training Program to Wisconsin in an effort to educate faith communities about how they may support veterans and their families.
She has also established training programs and provided training on many veterans issues to raise cultural competency.
The Wisconsin Woman Veteran of the Year Award recognizes women veterans who have compiled a record of exemplary service as a military service member, a veteran and member of the community.
She is humbled by this recognition.
“This has been a labor of love,” she said. “A true, whole-hearted labor of love.”
Walker will receive her award at the capital in Madison on Nov. 9.