A pilot program to help New York service men and women suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder will expand to seven Hudson Valley counties including Putnam, Rockland and Westchester.
"We're looking to shine a light on a silent crisis," said state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester).
The PFC Joseph Dwyer PTSD Peer-to-Peer Veterans Counseling program is named after a New York veteran suffering from post traumatic stress who committed suicide, Carlucci said.
Carlucci and state Senators Greg Ball (R-Patterson) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) led a large group of politicians and veterans to announce the expansion. Others at the event included Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Putnam Co. Sheriff Don Smith, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef; Vito Pinto, director of the Westchester Veterans Service Agency, Frank Faiella, commander of American Legion Post 506, John Roberts, an Iraq war veteran with PTSD and TBI, and Norm Cottrill, a Gulf War veteran with TBI. The press conference took place at American Legion Post 506 in Ossining.
At least one out of eight veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan come back with PTSD or TBI but fewer than half get the treatment they need, said Astorino.
"There should be no stigma," said Smith, a retired Army brigadier general, who said police stations and jails are too often the place of last resort for vets with PTSD. "Many of our vets bear both the physical and emotional scars of war...A nation that doesn't take care of its wounded warriors is not a great nation."
The Dwyer Program was funded for the first time in last year's state budget with $800,000 to start up in Suffolk, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Jefferson counties, said Zeldin. This year's budget is $2.3 million and the program is expanding to Nassau, Erie, Onondaga, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester.
"This is an example of people coming together across party lines," said Ball, adding that communities need to know about these programs to make them effective.
It will take the counties' veterans service agencies about six months to get the programs organized and the peer counselors trained.
Meanwhile, said Cottrill, who is now a student at Rockland Community College, if you're a veteran or know a veteran who needs help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
"If you know a young vet who has nowhere to go, tell them to come here, we have coffee and donuts every morning," Faiella said. The American Legion Post in Ossining is at 58 S. Highland Ave.
A large group of local vets turned out for the press conference.
"It was a unified effort by a lot of the vets here in Ossining to demonstrate to Senator Carlucci the support that's necessary for our veterans who come back with traumas rarely seen in previous wars," said Mike O'Connor, a Vietnam vet and a member of the Edmund. C. Genet VFW Post in Ossining.