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Mary Tamposi: When our vets suffer in crisis, so does the family

August 13. 2014 9:47PM

Our servicemen and women, whether already home or returning, face a unique set of challenges.

Too many come back with physical and invisible wounds and impairments that affect their lives and those of their loved ones.

Many suffer from mental health issues and behavioral disorders, including anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other such traumas that often create a downward spiral into despair, from the inability to secure employment, obtain or maintain affordable housing, to self-medication through alcohol and substance abuse and, very often, homelessness.

Successful assimilation back into the mainstream community and the ability to provide a healthy, normal family environment can be severely compromised, if not impossible.

Fortunately, there are resources and programs available to veterans to identify, treat and support these and other conditions, through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a number of agencies on the federal, state and local levels.

But what about the residually harmful effects of these conditions on the veteran’s family and caregivers? Where do they seek help and support from the stress and pain of coping with the veteran who is experiencing life-altering trauma?

Who can they turn to for assistance and supportive services as they become trapped within a chaotic web, when the resources and benefits for family members of veterans in crisis are severely limited?

We have all experienced the safety speech from the flight attendant, who has instructed us to place the facemask over our face first, and then assist our children. We cannot effectively help those around us who are suffering, if we ourselves are not equipped mentally and physically to do so.

Because PTSD and other traumas manipulate how a survivor feels and behaves, experiences that happen to one member of a family can affect everyone else in the family. Family members are presented with a wide variety of challenges related to the veteran’s debilitating issues and tend to assume the overwhelming responsibilities of keeping the family afloat, ignoring their own needs that directly affect their mental health and ability to sustain productive lives.

Loved ones and caregivers often experience heightened psychological distress, negative moods and anxiety, bouts of depression, and disconnection and detachment. These stressors often lead to job loss, sleep deprivation, mental and physical health problems and self-therapy through drugs and alcohol.

Loved ones living with veterans experiencing trauma must be able to receive assistance and be given the opportunity to take concrete steps to care for themselves, so that they may help their suffering loved ones in need.

Unfortunately, there are very few statewide funded programs that offer these benefits and services to family members of veterans in crisis.

Harbor Homes Inc., a statewide agency that provides housing and supportive services to homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, as well as non-veterans and their families, offers free counseling and case management through the Greater Nashua Services in Supportive Housing Project.

Funded by a grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the project provides free services to all individuals who meet the criteria of one episode of homelessness in their past, and who are now living in stable housing.

Located at 2½ Amherst St., in Nashua,the Project offers services in an inviting, homelike setting that include clear systems of referrals for integrated mental and behavioral health treatment, medication distribution and management, peer support and mentoring, treatment of dual disorders, assistance with securing and maintaining independent living skills, and vocational and workforce services.

The project allows the client immediate access to high quality, comprehensive mental health services through individual and group therapy and life skills training. The program encourages participants to live healthy, productive lives, increase socialization and encourage positive peer interaction.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 943-7971. Sessions are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mary Tamposi is director of development for Harbor Homes.

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