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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Iraq Veteran's Mission to Help Returning Peers

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Joel Chaverri has seen combat, having participated in the 2004 attack on Fallujah, Iraq, the scene of some of the most bitter street fighting involving U.S. forces since Hue in Vietnam. He knows the readjustment that a young man must go through when he leaves behind that kind of carnage.

So when Chaverri left the Marines and returned to North Texas, he accepted a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs. His mission: to go out and tell young combat veterans that it's OK to ask for counseling.

"I tell guys, 'You don't have to have a PTSD diagnosis or have a disability rating,'" Chaverri, 25, said. "'You don't have to have a disorder.' Our brochures never use the word PTSD. We offer readjustment counseling."

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


Established in 1979, Vet Centers around the country cater to former service members who have either post-traumatic stress disorder or lingering problems related to their service. Anyone who reads Doonesbury will recognize what they do through the character named Elias.

The Vet Centers in Fort Worth and Dallas do not prescribe medication, and they are not affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs' medical system nor its mental health operation.

"We just do talk therapy," said Michael Coulter, the team leader of the Fort Worth Vet Center, an Air Force veteran and a licensed master's social worker.

Close to 400 veterans are receiving help from the Fort Worth Vet Center, most of them men in their late 50s to mid-60s who fought against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. But 25 percent of the new clients coming in the door are young veterans, back from campaigns against militants in Afghanistan or Iraq. That percentage is rapidly growing, and it's even higher in the six-state region encompassing Texas, where almost half of the new clients are young veterans.

Chaverri reaches them by going to National Guard and reserve units, university counseling centers and veterans service offices in a 52-county area of North Texas. Without an active-duty base nearby, he must be "creative" in reaching out.

"I never know where these guys are going to be," he said. "I have to make sure that the people the veterans are going to contact know about the Vet Center. ... Despite all the VA briefs I got coming off active duty, I never heard about the Vet Center."

The VA has hired 100 veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq to do the same for its 207 Vet Centers across the country, and it plans on hiring more in the coming years. Vet Centers have also added bereavement counseling for the immediate families of troops killed in action.

Vet Center locator.

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