LOHUD: VETERANS MENTAL-HEALTH PEER COUNSELING PROGRAM EXPANDING TO AREA

 

     

    Written by Robert Marchant

    A new program for veterans coping with mental-health issues and neurological problems will be rolled out through the Lower Hudson Valley in the coming months.

    The Joseph Dwyer PTSD Peer-to-Peer Veterans Counseling program, which was funded at $2.3 million in the recently adopted state budget, will train veterans to help other veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries in small groups. The initiative, named after an Army medic from Long Island who died of a drug overdose after returning to the U.S., has been judged a success in the four other counties where it was initiated as a pilot program last year.

    One local veteran said the project would have been a big help after he was discharged in 2007.

    “When I came back, I really didn’t have anyplace to go,” said John Roberts, 27, who served with the Second Marine Division in Ramadi, Iraq, and took a bullet in the neck. “When I came back, they said, ‘Here’s the paper, here’s the pamphlet, here’s the form, it will take 61/2 hours to fill out.’ Come on — I need help now,” recalled Roberts, a Rockland Community College student from Harriman who has struggled with stress-related issues from his military service.

    “This is a big move,” he said. “Being with people who can understand you, who can relate to you — they know what you’re saying.”

    The program will be administered at the county level with state funds, and start in the fall. Peer leaders will be chosen and trained, then the counseling will be offered.

    Speaking after a press briefing at the American Legion post in Ossining, veteran Norm Cottrill described some of the symptoms that as many as 20 percent of returning veterans may experience. The former Navy sailor in the Gulf War who joined the Army suffered a head and neck injury during a parachuting accident.

    “You lose memory. The way you process information is affected. Sleep disturbances. Disinhibition. You develop coping mechanisms, and that can lead to other problems — alcoholism and drug abuse. To develop healthy coping mechanisms, you need to seek help,” said Cottrill, also an RCC student.

    “We’re trying to shine a light on a hidden crisis,” said Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, chairman of the Senate mental-health committee whose district includes Ossining.

    Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, who heads the Senate’s veterans and military-affairs committee, said the program would fill a need.

    “After they get out, these men and women, they’ll get the services they need, and not just a pamphlet,” Ball said. “There are people who have seen things that would bring you to your knees.” (ARTICLE)