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Local agencies readying for launch of peer support program for veterans with PTSD

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A local peer support program for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder is weeks away from starting, as Jefferson County officials arrange the details for its launch.

As part of the program, veterans will counsel other veterans diagnosed with PTSD and their families and direct them to professional services.

“This is one level of intervention that has not been used formally anywhere,” said Roger J. Ambrose, executive director of Jefferson County Community Services.

The Pfc. Joseph Dwyer Peer Support Program for Veterans is expected to begin in early December, supported by a $200,000 state grant. The grant, cosponsored by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, also opened potential grant funding to Rensselaer, Saratoga and Suffolk counties.

The program is named for a soldier who died in 2008 of an accidental drug overdose after reportedly struggling with the disorder. The combat medic rose to prominence in 2003 after the release of a photo showing him carrying an injured Iraqi boy.

Jefferson County Community Services selected the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County to facilitate the program. The organization already staffs a full-time and a part-time physician through a Resiliency and Recovery Initiative grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb. Theodore R. Stiles Jr., the association’s executive director, said the organization will pair the two grants to open a new space in the Marcy Building, 167 Polk St.

Veterans are being recruited to volunteer for the program. They will learn about resources available locally so they can provide referrals to their peers.

Peter J. Fazio, director of the Jefferson County Veterans Service Agency, which has helped in the development of the program, said there are many veterans who are interested in receiving assistance but don’t want to enter a clinical setting immediately.

“This could be another outlet where they could get the information they need,” he said.

He said that the program would not replace any other service, and that ideally the program would lead to more referrals to other agencies.

Mr. Stiles said that speaking to counselors who are veterans themselves can help allay some concerns that soldiers and their family members have about seeking help.

“It’s a huge help, just being able to talk to them, speak their language, know what they’re going through,” he said.

Mr. Stiles, who did logistics work in the Army and served for five years at Fort Drum, noted that several members of his agency’s staff had served in the military, which “opens the gate” to conversations with clients about the problems they face.

“They start talking, and next thing you know their whole story is out,” he said.

The program is scheduled to start Dec. 3, with a grand opening for its new space set for Dec. 7 to coincide with Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Those with questions about the program and its services can call the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County at 788-0970.

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