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Group seeks to help vets with PTSD

TRAVERSE CITY — Area veterans often come home traumatized by their war experiences, but can wait months to get critical help from the Veteran’s Administration.

So said Christine Stalsonburg of Traverse City, who formed an exploratory group that intends to create a tranquil healing center for area veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“Most everyone who is suffering through PTSD has some sort of outlet or release, whether fishing or hunting or art or music or horse therapy, and we hope to include all those different types of therapy programs at the facility on a daily basis,” she said.

Veterans already may obtain free counseling for a wide range of issues at the Traverse City Veteran Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

But Stalsonburg wants to provide free, professional help while they get their paperwork processed.

Carrie Seward, a V.A. public affairs spokeswoman, acknowledged there are delays when veterans request benefits for medical problems related to military service. They must file a claim, complete a medical assessment and await an eligibility award.

"If a veteran has an urgent need, care is delivered," she said. "However, if the veteran is found to be ineligible for care, they may be billed."

Stalsonburg hopes to work with the local V.A. clinic, as well as Reigning Liberty Ranch, which offers vets equestrian and farming therapy. Her group has applied for nonprofit status and plans to start fundraising on Monday. They envision a large home nestled in a tranquil setting of woods and water.

The group plans to name the center in honor PFC Ryan Patrick Kennedy, a Chicago man who shot himself in an apartment just outside Fort Carson in Colorado Springs on Aug. 2, 2012 after serving in Afghanistan.

Stalsonburg said Kennedy’s mom, a retired Chicago police officer, is a friend. Stalsonburg also has two sons who live in Pennsylvania and who suffer from PTSD in varying degrees.

“My youngest son reached out to the local V.A., and the treatment he got was horrible," she said. "He was put on the back burner. They told him, ‘We’ll get you help when we can.We’re busy.’”

Stalsonburg said she understands the V.A. does the best it can with limited resources.

Traumatic events can trigger PTSD, such as warfare or "military sexual trauma," which affects one out of five female veterans. About a third of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. Yet half do not seek treatment, according to the most recent Department of Veterans Affairs study.

“A lot are embarrassed,” Stalsonburg said. “They’re trying to struggle and deal with this stuff on their own. They’ve been told so long, ‘It’s part of war, man up and deal with the issues.' A big component of this is to provide awareness to caregivers and family members."

The most recent Department of Veterans Affairs study showed that a U.S. military veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, on average. Eric Harm, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, took his own life in Manistee County late last year — four months after completing active duty. His aunt, quoted in an earlier article, said mental trauma from war played a role in his decision to take his own life.

PTSD Awareness Retreat July 1-3 A free seminar on post traumatic stress disorder awareness and mentor training will be offered Monday, Tuesay and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Northwestern Michigan College main campus in the Oleson Center. Pre-registration is not required. Call Christine Stalsonburg at 231-409-4140 for more information.

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