One of the biggest issues facing the U.S. Military since 9/11 – Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – is threatening our nation with a more lasting impact than any prior modern day military conflict, and it’s long-term burden is being shouldered by military families across the country. Fortunately, a grass roots effort led by extremely patriotic mental health professionals is gaining traction nationwide and producing results.
Veterans Advantage recognizes those who are rising to meet this 21st Century challenge through their heroic contributions to our military heroes back at home by offering the gift of their professional counseling. As profiled below in a series of exclusive interviews with Veterans Advantage, many of these great Americans, coincidentally, have served our nation and witnessed the lasting effects of battle, too.
“The transition period is going to be difficult for them coming back,” said Jeffrey N. Rose, Ed.S, LMFT, a family therapist part of the Give an Hour network, a national team of professional therapists and counselors who are donating their time to those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a Veteran of the first Gulf War in 1991. He is also a sufferer from battle – 70% service disabled due to the effects of a SCUD missile and Gulf War Syndrome.
“No matter how you slice it, no matter how hard you try, it’s going to be a different person coming home,” he says.
Among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, approximately 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines, and half of the National Guard members report psychological problems, but mental health services are in short supply and in dire need of alternative approaches to solving this new health care crisis, say organizers.
“We want to normalize what our military personnel and their families are experiencing and support the sacrifices that they are making by providing critical mental health support at no cost,” said Dr. Barbara V. Romberg, founder and president of GAH, relatively new on the scene since 2004. For some, the dedication has been ongoing for years.
Val Reyes brings 22 years as a social work officer for US Army, and is currently Commander of the 113th Medical Company, Combat Stress Control Unit, an Army Reserve group based in California. He was first mobilized for combat during the start of the war in Afghanistan as one of the first mental help professionals on the ground to mitigate combat stress immediately upon onset. Its goal at the time was “improving the readiness of the soldiers, so they can return to the front as soon as possible.”
Nowadays, his passion is preparing the military for a happy life after service on that very same battlefield. “You want to ensure you acknowledge the soldier’s dedication to duty, make him aware he did something good for himself and the country, and acknowledge the sacrifices he is going through.” Many times, the family support network for the Veteran needs its own help. For Dr. Lori Buckley, an Army MP in the 1980’s and family therapist in southern California, families are thrust into change because relationships change and become complex.“ There’s a lot of loss, loss of the relationship that they counted on they would have.”
“Going away and being in a war is life changing. Especially with lots of young men and women going, their lives are being changed in a drastic way,” she adds. “There’s a lot of growing up that you do.”
With that in mind, Rose, for instance, is offering free family group counseling sessions to residents in his area. He also expects a lot more interest as about 1,500 local National Guardsmen are due to return to his area from Iraq very soon. He also notes that we all can do our part to encourage a better media message to be communicated about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan because a disproportionately negative assessment of the war can exacerbate brewing PTSD conditions in a soldier.
“They come [stateside] mid-tour and see news reports on how things are going. Then they go back over there and say ‘oh man…’”
It’s a responsibility that the Give an Hour network also feels, and is helping lead the charge towards communicating and healing wounds that no one can see but often runs very deep.
“We will be educating the military community and broader public about these mental health needs in hope of helping Veterans keep their lives and families intact.”