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ARLINGTON, Va. – Dr. Judith Broder’s group has offered free mental health counseling to many veterans and their family members, but one case sticks out for her.

A servicemember woke up one night to find that he was choking his wife in his sleep.

“He felt so horribly guilty that he then couldn’t leave the house for weeks at a time,” said Broder, a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist. “He sat in his room, cried, sat at the computer, wouldn’t interact with her at all.”

Finally, the man’s wife came to the group for help.

“This is in process,” she said, “So I don’t have a happy ending.”

“I have the beginning of a story.”

Broder is founder of The Soldiers Project, a non-profit organization that offers free mental health counseling to veterans and their families in Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., areas.

Since the group’s inception about a year-and-a-half ago, it has treated between 25 and 30 veterans and their loved ones, Broder said.

“More than half of the people that we are seeing are family members: Sometimes a couple, sometimes a wife, a grandma and a boyfriend, so it ranges,” she said.

The project has about 50 mental health-care professionals who donate their time. Barbara V. Schochet, a psychologist who volunteers for the group, is also part of the trauma center of the Los Angles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies.

Schochet said it is important for people to know that “combat trauma is not a weakness of character or ego; it’s a normal reaction to a very abnormal situation.”

The project works fast when troops reach out for help. When someone calls or leaves a message with Broder, she pairs them with a therapist in less than a day.

“I think we all feel as if we need to give something back to the troops, and we would be giving donations to other groups or other charities or something, and this is part of what we feel is our professional obligation,” Broder said.

Jane Bright, of suburban Los Angeles, said groups like the Soldiers Project are important because some servicemembers could be afraid of seeking help for fear of being stigmatized.

“Whether it’s a real stigma or a perceived stigma, the active-duty military often feel that they will derail their military careers if it gets back to their commanders that they have sought help either from a chaplain or psychologist for substance abuse, marital problems fears and anxieties,” Bright said.

She is the founder of a similar non-profit, the Evan Ashcraft Foundation, named after her son, who was killed in Iraq in July 2003.

Broder said she has undergone a “gradual process” of learning the effects of coming home on troops and their families, she said.

“I think we were surprised at the extent of the alienation and the isolation that the soldiers felt when they got home, and the strength – the powerful strength – of the bonds with their fellow servicemembers,” Broder said.

For more information, call the Soldiers Project at 818-761-7438 or e-mail: info@thesoldiersproject.org.


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