Trista Matascastillo knew the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her husband was diagnosed with the condition in 2004, and as an Army officer, she had been trained to recognize the warning signs. When some of those same hints manifested in her, however, Trista failed to recognize them.
That all changed at her 2008 exit evaluation.
"I was diagnosed at the VA hospital during my Compensation and pension exam," Trista said. "I didn't get any recommendations or treatment options when I was diagnosed, and I was kind of left on my own to navigate. I am seeing a therapist now but had to seek out and find a fit."
Her concern about PTSD and her belief that the military should take care of their own led Trista to advocating years before her or her husband's diagnoses. When she joined the list of those for whom she was advocating, her feelings intensified, and her desire to help was fortified.
"Advocates are a huge part of the process of educating professionals and policy makers about the issues our veterans face and together we make a difference," Trista said. "It is also extremely healing to share our stories and it is one of the best ways to make an issue real to others who don't know."
Trista has divided her time among the Women Veterans Initiative, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Veterans Advisory Council, and the Veterans Justice Project. In addition, she serves with the Minnesota Women Veterans Initiative Working Group, and was nominated by them to serve as a peer reviewer for the Department of Defense Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program.
Serving on a research evaluation panel not only helps her learn of new and potentially significant treatment for PTSD, Trista said, it also gives her the opportunity to meet consumers and researchers from other parts of the country to hear about other programs that are in place to help veterans.
"Being a reviewer has been a tremendous honor, and it is a privilege to be part of an amazing process," Trista said. "I know that my voice and my insight are valued by the highly trained and educated scientific reviewers because I can share first-hand experience and insight into the military culture that they might not understand."
In addition to learning about potential research projects, Trista said she also wants to share with her fellow panel members the military culture and experience. Knowing more about service members and veterans, she said, will benefit researchers and those for whom the research will serve.
"I have learned what programs and services and treatments are available and networked with other amazing advocates and scientist passionate about serving our Veterans," Trista said. "This has been a very positive, moving experience."