The military program will enable civilian mental health agencies to help veterans.
By JOSH ECHT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Sara Gleydura saw war's effects on soldiers up close and personal Tuesday -- without leaving Mahoning County.
"I never realized soldiers had so much to deal with," the Austintown resident said.
Gleydura, a case manager for Northeast Industries, attended "Serving a Nation at War: Behavioral Health Care for the Citizen/Soldier," along with about 40 other mental health professionals Tuesday at Turning Point Counseling Service in Youngstown.
Col. Terry Washam talked about the effects of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom on veterans in all military branches.
Washam, a Vietnam veteran, started the program, which provides care for Ohio National Guard and Ohio reserve units from all service branches returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Caring for veterans
The program, in operation since the fall of 2003, focuses on Ohio units because of the state's geographical challenges and base locations, he said.
"Active duty units return to one base, for example, where health care and resources are provided," Washam said. "With reserve and Guard units, providing adequate behavioral health care for them is hard because all of the reserve units are spread throughout the state."
The federally funded program features educating civilian mental health services such as Turning Point about reserve veteran counseling, giving veterans benefit packages and improving partnerships with military chaplains.
"We want to reach out to as many agencies as possible," Washam said. "It's a comprehensive public outreach program."
Washam serves as the senior social worker in the U.S. Army Reserve. He also works at the Louis B. Stokes Veterans Administration Medical Center in Brecksville.
Washam said 9,000 of the 23,000 active Ohio service members serve in the war on terror. At least 600 Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom veterans from the Cleveland Veterans Administration have benefited from the program.
He said veterans' behavioral health care problems need to be identified early so they will not recur 10 or 15 years later.
The program includes five full-time VA staff members as well as members from all Ohio veteran centers and outpatient clinics.
The 90-minute talk affected the audience, including Joe Cancilliere of Ashtabula, a former Vietnam and Gulf War Marine veteran, who drove 55 miles to view Washam's presentation.
"The colonel said up front, 'We have to do something about this problem right now,' so it does not get worse like past wars," he said.
Cancilliere said it took the government 10 to 15 years to address the Vietnam veterans' problems. A counselor for Ashtabula County, he said reservists are dealing with the same issues Vietnam veterans dealt with 20 years ago.
"A lot of us Vietnam veterans didn't have the resources back then, like the reserves don't have today," he said.
Cancilliere said most veteran patients want to see him because of his war experiences.
"They want to see me because I can relate to them."