WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 02, 2010, 09:02 AM

ND Guard members work to bring PTSD into the spotlight

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - It would be easy to get lost in the numbers and percentages. Those returning North Dakota guard members who suffer P-T-S-D. That is until you see a face, a name. Today, the hard work and perseverance of a few North Dakota guard members paid off when Senator Kent Conrad met with them and focused the spotlight on a problem kept in the dark too long.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Friends will tell you Joe Biel was a soldier's soldier. Confident, a battle buddy who served the North Dakota guard in Kosovo with two tours in Iraq.

“He was amazing, just amazing that is one word that wraps it up. He was selfless and would give you the shirt off his back. He would give you the last ten dollars in his wallet.”

But just months after Joe returned from Iraq to the Dakotas, PTSD pushed him over the edge. He took his own life at the age of 36.

“We did not recognize it. We were all going through the same thing and we were all having our own issues and having our own problems at the same time and there just wasn't enough support there for him.”

For the last three years, Joe's closest friends and his fellow guard members have hosted a motorcycle ride raising awareness and moving this PTSD issue from behind a closed curtain and out into the open.

“PTSD is real we cannot sweep it under the rug. We cannot minimize it we have to face up to it.”

Other friends like Dan Olson who served with Joe, plans on a coast to coast bike trip to let the entire country know about Joe and what price he paid for service.

“There is not doubt that Joe Biel is a hero who gave his life to our country.”

Olson just finished the Courage Ride across North Dakota. It is a nine day trek from the Montana border to Fargo raising awareness about P-T-S-D. He says once he gets sponsors, he will head out across America on his bike.

2.3 percent of people in North Dakota attempted suicide in 2009 and almost one-third of people showed signs of depression. Today, new signs of hope for a troubling trend, discovered through the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The Jason Foundation is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide. It opened its first North Dakota office at Prairie St. Johns in Fargo. The foundation provides awareness programs for students and training for educators to make sure help gets to those who need it

“Youth suicide is nearly, entirely preventable. Through education programs, we can really make a significant improvement in rates of youth suicide.”

The foundation provides services at no cost to participants.