PITTSBURG — “You are not weak. You are strong. Pick up the phone.” The general’s voice is strong, the air of command not gone despite his retirement. The importance of the statement causing him to repeat it, “Find a hotline, pick up the phone and make the call.”
Brigadier General Donald Bolduc (United States Army, Ret.) knows a few things about strength, and he has made it his mission to make sure that service members suffering with combat related struggles know that reaching out for help is not something to be ashamed of.
No one can argue Bolduc’s strength or experience. A combat veteran with over 32 years in a military uniform, Bolduc was part of the team which rode horseback into Afghanistan to secure terrority following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Bolduc has awards for valor, purple hearts, and 5 bronze stars. He has led 10 deployments, survived numerous firefights, a helicopter crash and a bomb blast.
Yet, it was his wife who started him on the path of one of the most important battles of his career. The fight for his own mental health and that of other veterans.
“My wife came to me with her observations. She told me how I had changed and that it was difficult for my family,” Bolduc said. “I was reluctant to seek help. I didn’t see anyone above me doing it, and the stigma was too high.”
Eventually his struggles were beyond what he could deny and he sought treatment. In doing so he realized that those under his command needed to see their leaders reaching out for assistance.
“No rank, no position, protects you from post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, pain management problems or sleep disorders following combat. No rank,” he said. “I realized the importance, though my own experience, of senior leadership speaking up and stopping the stigma.”
Bolduc put in a program to help the soldiers under his command while he was the commander of Special Operations Command Africa, but now that he is retired he’s taking that even further speaking about the importance of self-care following combat and tearing down stigmas that surround that care.
“I think it’s very important for people in positions of authority to show our service members that getting help is an important step, and not one of weakness,” Bolduc said. “No matter what a veteran is struggling with, be it PTS, TSI, or substance abuse they should find a hotline and find some help.”
Bolduc will be taking that message to Pittsburg State University Friday, August 10th. The Community Engagement Event starts at 3 p.m. and will take place in the Dotty and Bill Miller Theater at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. The event is free to the public.
He will speaking on invitation from PSU’s ROTC and local nonprofit, VetLinks. Vetlinks was started by the Kavanagh family to help veterans get the medical care they need to cope with combat related mental health struggles. Bolduc sits on their board.
In addition to the Community Engagement Event on Friday, VetLinks will be hosting its third annual Kav Fest fundraiser on Saturday, Aug. 11. The event includes a golf tournament, and an event following the tournament at McCarthy’s Pub. More information about the charity and the upcoming events can be found on their website, VetLinks.org.
Bolduc said that he hopes that events like this raise awareness and education on issues facing veterans. He said that path often starts with events like these and families stepping up and asking veterans to seek help.
“I’m very grateful for my wife,” he said. “Without her I wouldn’t have gotten the treatment to become a better version of myself. I want every veteran to have the opportunity to get the help they deserve.”