Veterans organize 1st annual PTSD Awareness Walk in Santa Rosa

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Three local Iraq veterans are hosting the first annual PTSD Awareness Walk, an event open to the public Saturday at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa.

The 1-mile walk around Lake Ralphine, which starts at 10 a.m., is intended to "increase awareness and raise funds to help break the stigma" around post-traumatic stress disorder in Sonoma County, the organizers said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says that up to 20 percent of the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD, and the National Institute of Mental Health says it affects about 7.7 million American adults.

Organizers of the event are Rita Constantini, a former Army Black Hawk helicopter crew chief who deployed for Operation Provide Comfort II in northern Iraq; Matthew Jensen, an Army and Marine veteran who served three tours in Iraq and describes himself as a "PTSD survivor" and Matt Smith, a former Marine who served in Iraq.

Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, Troops to Suits, the Marine Corp League, Vietnam Veterans of America and Common Sense Business Solutions are supporting the walk.

Organizers said they hope that familiarity with PTSD will encourage those who have it to seek help and "reduce the amount of suicides and destructive behavior associated with the aftermath of a traumatic experience."

Registration opens at 9 a.m. at the Cypress Point Picnic Area in Howarth Park. Registration is $20.

The walk will be followed by a short presentation.

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