November 20, 2008

Commonwealth aids Virginia veterans following combat

By 2nd Lt. Scott Campbell
2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment

RICHMOND, Va. — Governor Timothy M. Kaine and the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved legislation effective July 1, 2008 directing the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS), in cooperation with the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Rehabilitative Services, to establish the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.

The program was created to address the needs of state veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and related hardships, regardless of branch or time of service.

The state-wide program will coordinate support services for veterans with PTSD and TBI resulting from deployment to a combat area. The goal is to ensure that these veterans and their families receive timely assessment, treatment and support.

“Mental health issues can cause a ripple effect,” said retired Navy Capt. Catherine A. Wilson, the program’s executive director. “In some instances, left untreated PTSD and TBI can lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, unemployment and homelessness.”

This program, the newest within the Department of Veterans Services, will help to coordinate care and rehabilitation using existing federal, state and local providers. Other services, such as financial assistance, housing and transportation may also become more available through partnership with organizations assisting veterans and through private donors.

The Virginia Wounded Warrior Program does not replace the care or service provided by the Veterans Administration. The program will work in cooperation with the VA to ensure that veterans and their family members receive the help they need.

“We want to be known as a safety net for veterans and their families,” said Wilson. “We are a link between the veteran, the caregiver and other resources.”

The Virginia Wounded Warrior Program will also partner with Virginia Community Services Boards and brain injury service providers to ensure that there is adequate access to assist qualifying veterans and their families.

“The stigma associated with those that have the courage to seek help for mental health or behavioral issues is a real challenge. Stigma has prevented many civilians and veterans with PTSD from obtaining the help they need. In our military there is a fear of appearing weak and that getting help will damage a service member’s career,” said Wilson. “In the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are fortunate to have the highest level of support. Shining light on this subject and having senior leadership behind us is a powerful combination.”

The Virginia Wounded Warrior Program is expected to be fully functional in 2009.

“Our goal is to be a model state in how we treat and serve our veterans and their family members,” said Wilson.

The General Assembly appropriated $4.5 million, with $100K specifically earmarked for TurboVet - a claims processing system, over the next two years for this program.

If you or someone you know is a Virginia veteran – or the family member of a Virginia veteran – who may have suffered from PTSD or TBI as the result of service, please visit www.virginiaforveterans.com or contact the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program central office at 804-371-4675 or 8431 for further information.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” said Wilson. “Yet, as easy as it sounds, it can be the hardest thing to do.”

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