Local News

Volunteers Provide Counseling for War Veterans

Posted June 19, 2007 6:25 p.m. EDT

— As the Department of Defense faces a growing crisis in mental health services for military personnel, some civilian groups are stepping in to help fill the need for care.

The Defense Department said last week that a task force found significant shortfalls in the military's ability to treat personnel who suffer from anxiety, depression or stress after returning from combat. The problems include the stigma associated with mental health care, gaps in the continuum of care and insufficient resources, funding and personnel.

"The scars you receive in war are not always the visible ones," said Mark Hurst, an Air Force veteran who lost his left eye when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle in Afghanistan in 2004. "Our nature is to think we don't have a problem and everything's OK, and that's not always the case."

To help military personnel, the Returning Hero Counseling Network has sprung up to offer free counseling to veterans of the War on Terror.

The network is a partnership between the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, which works directly with troops on various issues, and Give an Hour, which is developing a national volunteer network of licensed mental health workers.

The two groups are asking mental health professionals to donate one hour a week to soldiers dealing with combat stress and don't want their buddies to know.

About 250 families, primarily in North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, have already applied for help from the network, which will be operational in January.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are at an all time high. There's a tremendous number of people returning (from the war), and there needs to be a tremendous number of people who can help," said Ashlie Lanning of the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes. "Troops don't really want to talk about the problem. This will provide a safe haven for them to come and get counseling in a private setting."

Fayetteville psychologist Diane K. Zimmerman signed up to donate her time to the network. She said she opposes the war but supports the troops.

"There is a lack of care, and I want to do my part," Zimmerman said.

The program also will provide counseling to military families dealing with emotional trauma.

"We're affected by war, and we bring those things back and it affects our families," Hurst said. "Just being able to talk about it and get it out helps."

Volunteers are needed to staff the program. More information is available at 914-432-5400.