HELP OUR TROOPS who battle the war within
Each May, we celebrate Memorial Day. It is usually a time spent with family and friends, having a barbecue, or celebrating the start of summer. But as we enjoy the day off, we must pause and reflect on the true meaning of this special observance.
Memorial Day honors the millions of Americans who tragically lost their lives while serving our country. Without the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, America would not stand. Our ideals of freedom and democracy are only possible due to their service. One of the ways we can honor their memory is to be there for those who serve when they return home and transition to civilian life – many who struggle with survivors guilt and invisible wounds.
With more than 108,000 Veterans, their families, as well active-duty service men and women residing in Southwest Florida, many are lacking access to needed behavioral health services. We must do more than thank them for their service and sacrifice. This national observation is an opportunity to highlight the local resources available to Veterans.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 Veterans returns home with an invisible wound of service such as traumatic brain injury and PTSD. If untreated, these can lead to an increased risk of suicide and substance use. The suicide rate per 100,000 population of Veterans far exceeds that of the US adult population.
Improving access to evidenced-based services for Veterans is outlined as a special consideration in Collier County’s first-ever, five-year strategic plan for mental health and addiction services.
The Board of County Commissioners approved plan serves as a road map for community partners, donors and government leaders as they mobilize responses to address associated current and future challenges.
In recent years, David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health (DLC) has formed strategic partnerships with private funders and other nonprofits to address the mental health needs of Veterans. In collaboration with Wounded Warriors of Collier County, DLC launched a Veterans Services Program designed to build meaningful partnerships with Veterans and their families to help them function better at home, in the community, on the job, in educational settings and throughout life.
“Southwest Florida Veterans are struggling from very serious social and emotional problems resulting from their military service that don’t get enough attention locally,” said US Army Vietnam Veteran and David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health (DLC) Board Chairman Robert P. Magrann. “As a Board Member, one of my top priorities is to see that DLC is doing its part to save and improve the lives of our Veterans struggling with depression, PTSD, substance use and homelessness.”
Through DLC’s program, a Peer Veterans Case Manager helps Veterans access evidence-informed, trauma-specific treatments such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Trauma Incident Reduction (TIR), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Veterans Treatment Court, mindfulness and much more.
In addition to helping Veterans access treatment, the case management program assists with transitional and long-term housing, connecting with community resources, applying for benefits as well as linking with the VA medical, optical, and dental care.
“My favorite part of the job is seeing the positive impact that I can make in the lives of my fellow Veterans in Collier County,” said Geidy Lopez, US Army Veteran and DLC Veterans Case Manager. “Seeing them achieve their goals, avoid homelessness, have their basic needs met and their quality of life improved gives me tremendous joy.”
In 2021, Home Base Florida and DLC formed a clinical
partnership to offer mental health and substance use treatment for local Veterans and military families at no cost, regardless of ability to pay, military experience level, or discharge status.
Staffed by DLC’s clinical team, Veterans can receive evidence-based clinical care for a variety of mental and emotional health needs, including post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, anger, grief and loss, and transitional challenges.
“It is an honor to work with our dedicated community partners to help expand these life-saving services in Collier County for our heroes who served our country so valiantly,” said DLC CEO Scott Burgess. “This additional support will help many struggling Veterans in our community to not only survive, but thrive, and we couldn’t be more excited to be a catalyst in that process.”
Having these services available is a critical step in addressing the wellbeing of Veterans, but barriers can still remain that inhibit some from seeking treatment.
“It often takes time when the Veteran returns home to understand they might need help, ” said Home Base Florida Honorary Director and retired, four-star US Army General Fred M. Franks. “Stigma, military culture of strength, fear of asking for help, denial, financial concerns, difficulty accessing care, employment and family concerns are just a few reasons they don’t ask for help.”
Support and community connections make all the difference. Veterans need to know barriers can be broken, they can get better, and they are never alone. That’s where the community at large can help—by supporting the non-profits that offer resources to Veterans, and by encouraging any Veteran you know who is struggling to seek support that many are honored to provide them.
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