Program Helps Veterans Sidestep VA to Get Help

Denton Record-Chronicle

January 10, 2008 – Denton County [Texas] veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will benefit from a half-million dollars granted to two agencies to provide mental health assistance for the them and their families in “Operation Healthy Reunion.”

Mental Health America of Greater Dallas and the American Red Cross have re­ceived $553,260 to be disbursed through the Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment fund of the Dallas foundation, said Keith Nix, a spokesman for Mental Health of America.

Many veterans who need help adjusting back to their lives and their families or who experience mental anguish because of the stress of battle hesitate to seek help through the Department of Veterans Affairs because they don’t want that information on their military records, Nix said.

And, unlike Veterans Affairs, this program offers help to family members as well, he said.

“The VA has no program for medical treat­ment, psychiatric treatment or otherwise, other than the vet,” he said. “There is a huge field of problems that needs to be addressed — problems that lead to divorce or alienation of kids.

 “You hear conversations that make your hair stand up because of the family trauma that is often created by the rejoinder of military personnel to their family,” Nix said.

“We’re hearing that, almost without exception, a woman in the military has experienced gender problems — some sort of emotional or sexual assault. The same is true of gays.

“You can’t complain about those things because the officers aren’t necessarily sympathetic and they can be harassed that much more.”

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy precludes complaints, he said.

This program sidesteps the VA.

“The whole point of the program is to bypass the VA,” he said. “There is a huge resistance to seek help that would go on their record. It goes against the grain.”

He estimated that 700 veterans and family members from Denton, Collin, Dallas, Delta, Ellis, Hopkins, Hunt, Kaufman, Navarro, Rains, Rockwall and Van Zandt counties will receive help in the two-year program.

Initial interviews can be done on a personal basis in the veteran’s community. The agencies hired employees with military experience and mental-health expertise, he said, to better understand the military mindset.

“The initial interview could be done in a minister’s or doctor’s office or the local Starbucks,” Nix said. “It’s meant to be as private as possible.”

The program is available now. Call 214-871-2420 and ask to speak with Walter Norris at extension 110.

DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is .

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