Health Team

Nonprofit offers mental health help for troops, families

Posted October 11, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 11, 2011 7:31 p.m. EDT

For many service men and women who've come home from the war in Afghanistan, they're still waging battles in their minds. One veteran says she survived the battlefield but almost died at home.

Jennifer Crane's first day of Army basic training was Sept. 11, 2001. Two years later, the 20-year-old was on the ground in Afghanistan.

“You basically make the sign of the cross and just drive and pray and hope that you don’t get blown up that day,” she said.

The horrors of war wore her down quickly.

“We would see trucks of bodies just come back to base with brain matter out of their heads, missing limbs and a lot of blood,” she said.

Crane came home with post-traumatic stress disorder, became addicted to crack cocaine and lived in her car.

“I just wanted nothing to do with anybody, completely the opposite of what I use to be,” she said.

A recently released survey finds she isn't alone. Thirty-one percent of veterans said they had post traumatic stress disorder.

“A trigger could be a sound, a smell, a sight that will literally trigger an experience, as if the person was once again in that horrific situation,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, a psychologist in the Washington D.C. area who founded “Give an Hour.”

Her non-profit’s mission is to develop national networks of volunteers who can respond to mental health needs of the troops and their families.

“Over 6,000 mental health professionals around the country are now stepping up,” Van Dahlen said.

Last year, 295 veterans committed suicide, and a Department of Defense study found one third of them had asked for help before taking their life.

Now the married mother of a young daughter, Crane is a spokeswoman for "Give an Hour" and shares her story to give hope that there is life after war.

“I spent three years using drugs, hurting myself, wanting to end my life, and it didn’t have to be that way,” she said.