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Local organizations address added needs of veterans

Local organizations address added needs of veterans

Tomah, Wis. (WKBT) - Mental health and homelessness are two areas that continue to be a problem for veterans.

Wednesday the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center invited organizations from all over the 14 counties it serves to talk about ways to address the needs of veterans.

The most common mental health issue among vets is post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD.org says one in three returning troops is diagnosed with PTSD, but less than 40 percent will seek help.

Organizers of Wednesday's summit said there are lots of local resources available to the men and women serving our country, so Wednesday the focus was on making access to that help easier.

One veteran in attendance said a big step is taking the first step.

"Yeah as a military member it's hard to ask for help, but it's there. Take that step and go get it," Marine Corps. veteran Chris Chandler said.

Chandler served as a Marine for nine years, but a few years ago found himself struggling with PTSD. He eventually reached out to the Tomah VA for help.

"Honestly before I even step foot in I had no idea, I didn't even consider the VA as an option for me and then obviously I'm really glad that I did," Chandler said.

"We know that a large number of veterans, at some point in their lives, will have a diagnosis, a mental health diagnosis, or need some kind of mental health treatment," Dr. David Skripka, assistant chief staff for mental health at Tomah VA, said.

Skripka said everyone at the summit is dedicated to helping veterans in different ways. He said the goal now is piecing them all together to better serve the needs of veterans in the area.

One service based in La Crosse County is Veterans Court.

"We try to get mentors attached to these veterans. Try to get them over the stigma of admitting that they have a behavioral health issue or at least seek out whether they have that and if they're found to have a behavioral health issue they can get the treatment that's going to reduce their risk to reoffend," La Crosse County Judge Todd Bjerke said.

Bjerke, the keynote speaker, said research has proven that treatment-based courts have a big impact on changing a person's behavior.

"That the best way to try to deal with these veterans, at least in our area, is to locate and train mentors," Bjerke said.

Chandler says his experience with the VA has been amazing.

His advice to anyone out there struggling with any type of mental illness is just ask for help.

"When you kind of lose yourself for a little bit, you step foot into the VA, and there's people that understand and kind of fill the cracks in your foundation that you already have. It's definitely about finding yourself again," Chandler said.

Across the nation the number of homeless veterans is rising. PTSD.org reports one-third of the homeless population in the US is veterans.

You can find a list of resources at www.tomah.va.gov.

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