Mental health counseling, treatment available to Soldiers, veterans

Written by  //  September 21, 2011  //  Feature Stories, News

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Sept. 21, 2011) – It used to be that the stigma of seeking help for mental health problems kept many in the military from getting the help they need.

Now, the military hopes break the stigma by bringing behavioral health issues to the forefront and encouraging service members to get help.

“A lot of the reactions that people are having, especially when they come back from theater are very natural and normal given what they’ve gone through,” said Dr. Anne Freund, a staff psychologist with the St. Augustine Veterans’ Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. “The problem is that nobody talks about it. Nobody talks about how they’re feeling. On the surface, everybody looks fine, but that doesn’t mean that underneath it all they’re not struggling.”

Freund, who specializes in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, says that post combat reactions are not new and are pretty consistent amongst veterans of all conflicts.

“Most people do struggle with issues like anger management, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares or emotional detachment,” said Freund. “Those are natural, normal things that most people go through once they come back from a war zone. And that’s true whether it’s World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. The effects of war are pretty universal.”

The VA clinic in St. Augustine sees veterans of several conflicts and has group therapy sessions aimed at both older veterans and the younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to group therapy, the VA also offers individual and marital counseling and can provide some of the latest recommended treatments for PTSD such as prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. The counselor, in conjunction with the service member or veteran, will work to put together a personalized treatment plan based on the individual’s needs.

“Once people do come in to get help, frequently they’ll say, ‘I wish I had done this sooner,’” said Freund. “They realize that they don’t have to deal with the issue alone. This is what people like myself do.”

VA clinics are not the only resources for service members and veterans dealing with mental health issues. The Florida National Guard has a Director of Psychological Health, Mr. Michael McFarland, who can provide counseling or referrals for outside counseling. Military One Source can also provide 12 free counseling sessions per issue for eligible veterans. Local Vet Centers are also a good resource for veterans, often staffed by veterans themselves.

“A lot of Soldiers don’t know what the vet centers are,” said McFarland. “They’re associated with the VA, but they’re a totally different kind of organization in that vet centers are very localized, agency-specific programs.”

Regardless of the avenue for seeking help, the message many counselors want you to hear is clear: you’re not alone.

“Most people make the mistake of thinking that they’re the only one who feels the way they do,” said Freund. “Once you come in for counseling, you realize that the depression or the anger or the anxiety that you’re having, most other people are probably struggling with them too.”

For many, the most difficult part of seeking treatment for behavioral health issues is finding the courage to come forward and admitting they need help.

“Seeking help actually takes a lot of courage to step up and say that there’s a problem, and it takes more courage to take the bull by the horns and deal with it,” said Freund.

Freund says that people often cannot see objectively in the midst of a very difficult situation. Often, talking to someone outside of the situation can provide a “second opinion” or valuable feedback. In this way, she likens counseling to coaching; just another avenue to improve your life and coping skills.

“Life doesn’t always prepare us for some of the stressful events that will occur,” said Freund. “There’s nothing wrong with getting a little coaching. If you were having problems with your jump shot, you would talk to somebody about how to improve it.”

To contact the Florida National Guard Director of Psychological Health, call (904) 823-0308 or (904) 315-4491. For Military One Source, dial 1-800-342-9647.