THE EXAMINER: VETS PROGRAM DISCUSSED IN CARMEL

 

    Andrew Vitelli

    “Everybody when they come back feels like there’s something wrong with them, or they’re broken, or they’re the only ones feeling this way,” Tim Strobel, the Suffolk County program coordinator for the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer to Peer Program, explained to a group of local officials at Carmel’s Spain Cornerstone Park Thursday. “But when they come to this group,” Strobel continued, “they hear the other guys talking. It almost validates what they’re going through.”

    The Peer to Peer Program was launched last year in four New York counties, including Suffolk. It will now be expanding to seven additional counties, Westchester and Putnam among them. The program facilitates meetings of combat veterans so those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury have the chance to speak to people who understand what they are going through.

    “This is really nothing more than veterans helping veterans,” said Tom Ronayne, director of the Suffolk County Department of Veterans Affairs. “Our veteran status is a great equalizer among us. There is no rank. There are no badges.”

    Thursday’s meeting and subsequent conference call brought together state officials and county officials from participating counties to discuss facilitating the program.

    The meetings are open to any veteran and while most participants fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, the program also brings veterans from previous generations.

    “We have Vietnam veterans in our groups,” said Ronayne. “We have Korean veterans. We have actually had a World War II veteran come in a couple times.”

    Anonymity, officials said, is also a key to the program’s success, as veterans are afraid any documentation of mental health concerns will make it more difficult for them to find employment later on, particularly in the public sector.

    “There are veterans who simply will not go to the VA,” said Ronayne, adding others would go but not for issues relating to mental health.

    Each county will receive $185,000 for the program. In Putnam it will be administered by the county’s Mental Health and Veterans departments, according to a press release from Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell.

    “It is vital that we have a program like this so our veterans can learn to understand just what PTSD and TBI are and can do,” Odell stated in the press release. “Working with their peers who have the shared experience of dealing with these disorders will undoubtedly aide our veterans in their recovery.”

    The informational meeting was hosted by State Sen. Greg Ball’s (R-Patterson) office. Ball has called the program’s expansion a win for Putnam’s veterans.

    “This great program will positively impact countless lives,” Ball said in a press release. “With the rising number of returning veterans suffering from ailments like TBI and PTSD, we must do everything in our power to give our returning troops the services and programs they need.”

    The program is named after Joseph Dwyer, a Suffolk resident and Army private who committed suicide in 2008 after returning home from Iraq. Dwyer gained fame when a photo of him carrying an Iraqi child ran in several media publications, but upon returning home felt overwhelmed by the pressure, according to Ronayne.

    “Joe came home from the war,” said Ronayne. “Unfortunately, Joe did not survive his PTSD.” (ARTICLE)