Veterans Symposium highlights concerns such as mental health, addiction

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Pencil illustration trying to visualize PTSD. Those who suffer from this disorder are constantly trying to regain some sense of normalcy that they had before the events that caused pieces of themselves to disappear. (Robert Barnett / US Air Force)

Johnstown, Pa. (Tribune News Service) – Many veterans face a myriad of issues, including drug addiction, mental health issues and run-ins with the law, that date back to their days in the military.

So every year, Veteran Community Initiatives holds a Symposium on Veterans Issues to bring together organizations that help veterans, so they can share ideas.

The 16th annual event – sponsored by the Cambria County Drug Coalition, Drug Free Workplace PA, and Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation – took place Thursday and Friday at Asiago’s restaurant atop the Inclined Plane hill.

“The idea behind (this year’s) program is community,” said VCI President and CEO Tom Caulfield. “This is the key. Veterans play a very big role in their community, a very big role in their community. We want to educate people … by letting them know about organizations that do different things, different employment programs and services that are out there. And we just want to let them know that they’re available.

Thursday’s presentation focused on tackling drug addiction, which Caulfield says is “imperative.”

Speakers included Jayme White, outreach and community engagement coordinator at Forge Health in Greensburg, which uses telehealth to treat veterans.

“Trauma is probably the # 1 thing we see in veterans and first responders,” White said. “A lot of it fuels behavioral health, whether it’s anxiety and depression on the mental health side or addiction. People cope with trauma in different ways. This seems to be the # 1 driving force, I think it causes some of the problems for vets.

White described the symposium as a collaborative experience.

“We don’t believe that one place can handle everyone and that one place can heal everyone,” White said, “so our goal has always been to collaborate with other partners.”

Amy Canavan, Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator for the James E. Van Zandt Veterans Administration Medical Center, added: In the VA Medical Center, so they know what is available to them . So working with community agencies and services kind of allows us to go out there and let people know, so they can let people know, so that we can provide the service that we provide.

Canavan’s agency helps veterans facing legal difficulties after committing non-violent crimes. She said the program is designed to “make sure they get the treatment they need to resolve their legal issues and don’t go back into the legal system.”

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