Healing wounded minds

It’s fair to say that not all wounds a vet­er­an may suf­fer while in mil­it­ary ser­vice are phys­ic­al.

In fact, deep emo­tion­al scars can plague vet­er­ans for years fol­low­ing their re­turn to the States. And these wounds of­ten can take longer to heal and be more dif­fi­cult to treat than a phys­ic­al in­jury.

To tar­get this type of dis­tress and provide the emo­tion­al heal­ing that a sol­dier and his fam­ily may need, the Coun­cil for Re­la­tion­ships hosts a pro­gram called Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Edd Con­boy, act­ing dir­ect­or of so­cial ser­vices for the Broad Street Mis­sion, at 315 S. Broad St., and dir­ect­or of Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing, the pro­gram is de­signed to help ease the emo­tion­al and psy­cho­lo­gic­al stress that mil­it­ary vet­er­ans feel after they re­turn home. 

These days in par­tic­u­lar, for troops re­turn­ing from the wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, emo­tion­al stress likely is worse than it might have been for sol­diers re­turn­ing from Vi­et­nam, Con­boy noted.

“This isn’t your fath­er’s or grand­fath­er’s vet­er­an,” he said. “The stress levels are bey­ond any­thing we’ve seen.” 

Much of this stress can be ex­acer­bated by the re­peated tours of duty un­der­taken by mil­it­ary vet­er­ans bat­tling these wars on ter­ror­ism, he said. 

These re­peated de­ploy­ments can take their toll. The con­stant re­turn to the front line would wear on any­one, he said. 

In fact, he said, his own fath­er served in the mil­it­ary in World War II and did one tour of duty — which spanned five battles for him, in­clud­ing storm­ing the beaches of Nor­mandy — but Con­boy be­lieves that sol­diers re­turn­ing now from the har­row­ing ac­tion in Ir­aq have suffered deep­er emo­tion­al scars. 

“Even with all of that stress, I would say they wer­en’t as stressed as vet­er­ans now … these guys are do­ing what my dad did four or five times,” said Con­boy. “It’s a dif­fer­ent world.” 

Of­ten, he said, sol­diers re­turn­ing to Amer­ica are con­fron­ted with crum­bling fam­il­ies. Di­vorce and deal­ing with re­mar­riages and child-cus­tody is­sues are com­mon con­cerns, he ex­plained. 

Also, with more wo­men serving in all roles of mil­it­ary com­bat, he said, chil­dren of­ten have to get reac­quain­ted with moth­ers who have be­come out of touch dur­ing lengthy ser­vice in Ir­aq or Afgh­anistan.

An­oth­er con­cern, Con­boy said, is the stag­ger­ing stat­ist­ic that about one-third of fe­male sol­diers have ex­per­i­enced some sort of sexu­al as­sault while serving in the mil­it­ary. 

“We are see­ing much more re­si­li­ence,” he said. “And they face some dif­fi­cult situ­ations. Let’s face it, some of them left for the mil­it­ary be­cause their fam­il­ies wer­en’t that great to be­gin with. Then they re­turn home and there are still prob­lems.” 

Yet, even as they face these com­plex is­sues, Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing can ad­dress these prob­lems and help sol­diers cope with them, Con­boy said.

“The pic­ture is dark but hope­ful,” he said. “At Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing, we are re­con­struct­ing home and fam­ily.” 

To com­bat these prob­lems, Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing reaches out — es­pe­cially to vet­er­ans who might be home­less — by con­nect­ing sol­diers with ther­apy through skilled coun­selors who can re­late to their ex­per­i­ences. 

With a staff of about 90 throughout the Coun­cil for Re­la­tion­ships, there are about 23 coun­selors trained to work with vet­er­ans.

While the Coun­cil for Re­la­tion­ships has been work­ing with mem­bers of the armed forces since the agency’s start in 1932, Con­boy star­ted the Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing pro­gram about four years ago spe­cific­ally to fo­cus on help­ing vet­er­ans com­ing home from Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, though the pro­gram is open to all vet­er­ans.

In that time, the pro­gram has helped more than 55 vet­er­ans get back in­to their homes, be­come closer to their fam­il­ies and/or deal with the stresses re­lated to mil­it­ary ser­vice. 

“We try to do what the VA (U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs) can’t,” said Joe East­man, a vet­er­an and out­reach of­ficer for Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing.

“People are truly wel­come here. When people walk through that door, they know they are go­ing to be treated as hu­man be­ings,” East­man con­tin­ued. “It’s a real sense of re­lief.”

East­man re­called a Navy vet­er­an of the Gulf War who re­cently walked in off the street, in need of help be­cause he was home­less.

“I knew of a group in West Philly that had a bed. I called in the morn­ing and they said he will have a bed to­night,” East­man said. “When you say it’s for a vet­er­an, nobody ever lets you down.”  ull;•

For more in­form­a­tion on the Coun­cil for Re­la­tion­ships’ Op­er­a­tion Home and Heal­ing, vis­it the Web site at www.op­er­a­tion­home­and­heal­ing.org or call 215-382-6680. 

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com  

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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