U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs help raise awareness, support for veterans


(WTAJ)– Two representatives of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs raise awareness on the challenges many veterans are facing in regard to the current events happening in Afghanistan.

The Executive Assistant to Director of the James E. Van Zandt Medical Center in Altoona Shawn Shenk, and Psychologist Wilkes-Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Michelle Vella-Healy, both brought up ways that the VA are helping veterans cope with current events.

According to Shenk, the VA has had a rise in phone calls from veterans’ families and veterans dealing with PTSD themselves. Shenk explained how the rise in calls is considered a good thing because people are reaching out.

Dr. Vella-Healy explained all the different types of resources that the VA offers veterans suffering from PTSD. She also added that in terms of the road to recovery for veterans dealing with PTSD, the quicker they reach out for help, the easier the road to recovery can be.

“Things that family members can do are ongoing pleasurable activities with their veteran, they can go to their doctor’s appointments, they could also develop a crisis plan,” Vella-Healy said.

A crisis plan, according to Vella-Healy, is a conversation that families can have with their veterans to prepare for when they might experience flashbacks, nightmares, or other PTSD symptoms. Through the plan, families can better understand how their role can help limit the symptoms.

There also has been a trend in using more mindful remedies such as meditation to help veterans with PTSD.

“We have a whole health program dedicated to mindfulness and mediation. Matter of fact, our employees do chair yoga and mindfulness at work to try and help them understand what that does for them so they can better communicate to the veteran,” Shenk said.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also want families to be aware of these signs of suicide risk:

  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself.
  • Looking for ways to kill yourself.
  • Talking about death, dying or suicide.
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, ect.
  • Hoplessness, feeling like there’s no way out.
  • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness or mood swings
  • Feeling like there is no reason to live.
  • Engaging in risy activities without thinking.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.

If you or someone you know is a veteran in crisis, you can call the James E. Van Zandt Medical Center at 1-800-273-8255 or the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs at 1-800-698-2411.

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