About 100 people turned out in Howarth Park on Saturday to help raise awareness of and support those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Organizers of the first PTSD Awareness Walk said they hoped the event could help people understand that veterans aren't the only ones who can suffer from the syndrome that often includes anxiety, flashbacks, trouble concentrating and irritability.

"We feel PTSD isn't just for soldiers," said Rita Constantini, a former Army Black Hawk helicopter crew chief who deployed for Operation Provide Comfort II in northern Iraq. "Anybody who's working their way back from trauma can stand with us."

About 60 people signed up for the event, which included a walk along Lake Ralphine and opportunity for people to make contact with various groups offering services for veterans.

The money raised may help support projects with some of those groups to help reach out to those who suffer from PTSD, Constantini said.

Steve Bossard, a Marine who served in Vietnam before becoming a police officer, said PTSD used to be known as "shell shock" and "battle fatigue." People now realize that it can affect people exposed to all kinds of trauma.

"I've had incidents in police work that were even worse than some of the stuff I've seen in Vietnam," said Bossard, who is now retired.

He said he's suffered flashbacks, bad dreams and a limited range of emotions. Bossard "self-medicated" with alcohol until he learned to recognize that he had PTSD, he said.

It's crucial for people to be sympathetic to those who exhibit symptoms of PTSD and encourage them to get help, Bossard said.

Many veterans don't seek help because of the stigma and sense of shame attached to seeking help for mental illness, Dr. Patrick Reilly told the group.

Reilly, who recently retired from a long career with the Veterans Affairs clinic in Santa Rosa, said estimates are that 20 percent of veterans get PTSD, but only about 10 percent get help.

Reilly said Vietnam veterans have been instrumental in reaching out to help younger veterans recognize PTSD issues.

"Their message has been really clear — 'Get help now. Don't wait 10, 20, 30 or more years and suffer the problems we did,'" Reilly said. "I couldn't concur more with that message."

One such veteran was 67-year-old Bruce Thomson, who said he knew soon after he returned home from Vietnam in 1969 that something wasn't right with him. But when he mentioned seeking help to his father, his dad responded that their family didn't see psychiatrists.

"He took me to a bar and bought me a beer," Thomson said.

Years of substance abuse followed, and he only got better after counselors at the local Veterans Affairs office helped him deal with his anger stemming from his time in the service, Thomson said.

Organizer Matthew Jensen, an Army and Marine veteran who served three tours in Iraq, hopes to use the contacts created by the event to one day build a Veterans Village in Sonoma County, Constantini said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.