www.15MinuteStressOut.com founder Jerry Vest ASW, LISW, LMT is working with the Veterans Health Alliance.
Online PR News – 30-March-2010 – – By MARY ALICE MURPHY
Special to the Press A proposal to use Fort Bayard campus buildings as a facility for female veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder was discussed at a meeting held Friday in the Fort Bayard New Deal Theater.
Grant County Commissioner Mary Ann Sedillo, a member of the Operation Fort Bayard Committee, opened the meeting by reading a poem, “The Noble and the Brave.'
Armando Amador, New Mexico Department of Veterans Services advisory board member and Vietnam veteran, was the first speaker. “When we came back from Vietnam, it was totally different from the way the veterans are welcomed home today,' Amador said. “PTSD has had a huge impact on me. I couldn’t find peace.'
He said he would go to the mountains and stay for long periods of time.
“I finally decided to go back to work and try to find peace,' Amador said. “The job was good, but mentally something was wrong in me. To get out of Vietnam, we had to sign a waiver to forgo veterans’ benefits.'
The veterans at that time were also shut out from other veterans’ organizations, because the war was considered a “conflict' or “police action,' and “not a real war.'
His health soon suffered, and when he would mention Agent
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Orange, the doctors would back off from treating him. After spending most of a couple of years in the hospital in the mid- 1980s, Amador decided to go to college to study accounting. He was told, “ You’re not good enough,' but he pushed hard and got a degree.
Amador met Richard Marrufo, another Vietnam veteran, at Western New Mexico University. They joined forces to get help. They found a social worker willing to work with them on their “ nervous condition,' as PTSD was called.
Amador, in 1986, won his Social Security case to receive mental disability benefits for PTSD. He also began helping others get disability, as well as help, and “I found a little bit of peace.'
The difference today is striking.
“Now we’re talking about PTSD,' Amador said. “Now people are offering us help. This is a golden opportunity here at Fort Bayard for PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. In unity we can work together toward a future here.'
A brief PowerPoint presentation of the history of Fort Bayard was given.
Kathryn Brown, a registered nurse who specializes in spinal cord injuries, has a business, Integrative Health Service, and is a member of the Veterans Health Alliance as well as the Operation Fort Bayard Committee.
The goal of the Veterans Health Alliance is to treat not just the individuals, but also the families who are impacted by PTSD.
She cited the healing arts and the natural resources at Fort Bayard as prime opportunities to treat the one in four veterans who return from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD or TBI. Traumatic brain injuries are the “signature injury' of these wars.
Brown said many of the referrals she sees out of Las Cruces are for TBI, and many are veterans.
“ The government has realized that bringing in alternative modalities works for this population,' she said. “ If we aren’t proactive, we will be in a crisis situation.'
She also cited the need for economic development in the area.
“And if you believe that nature heals, we have the perfect conditions here at Fort Bayard,' Brown said.
At one time, Fort Bayard housed up to 500 soldiers, and many were treated for tuberculosis at the hospital, because of the dry, clean air and moderate climate.
Brown said the Warm Springs Apache are also interested in a healing center. “We have the opportunity to heal on several levels,' she said. “ I want to work with the Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center to model our treatments on their center.'
Gerald Vest(www.15minuteStressOut.com) from the Fort Bliss center said “little miracles' happen daily with those being treated.
He said the treatments are so intense that “we who work with these veterans have to have our own selfcare program. We only take 30 soldiers at a time, and they must commit to go back to active duty.
“ We know now that PTSD is not just mental,' Vest said. “It’s physical in the brain. I would love to move our center right here to Fort Bayard and stay,' Vest said. “When (the soldiers) go out into nature they come back smiling. We need places where they can come and feel safe.'
Staff Sgt. Shonda Rauls is one of the soldiers being treated at Fort Bliss.
“ Out of the 30 soldiers (receiving treatment), only three are women,' Raulssaid. “ When we are with male soldiers, we discuss combat, but we cannot talk about sexual harassment or rape. The males see us as mothers or sisters, and they want to protect us, but we are soldiers fighting the same war.
“ I so much want you to develop another program,' she continued. “ I thank therapists who are there for us every day. I fought going to the center, because I thought I should just suck it up and go back and fight a war, but I learned I cannot fight a war when I’m sick. I have to take time to heal myself and then go back and fight the war.'
Vanessa Milner, who is also being treated at Fort Bliss, thanked the veterans who served before her.
“ This center saved my life,' Milner said. “ I tried to kill myself. The center has showed me more about living. We have people who care and what they do for us is amazing. We see we can make it and have a future.
“ For females, there are things we can’t talk about with males,' she continued. “ It would be awesome to have a place where we can be true to ourselves.'
New Mexico Department of Veterans Services Cabinet Secretary John M. Garcia supports such a facility in New Mexico.
Garcia is a Vietnam veteran, and he said: “ I will never get rid of my PTSD, but I know my triggers and how to deal with them.'
“ We are the generation who went through so much BS coming back from the war, and now we are in the system and won’t allow what happened to us to happen to you,' Garcia said.
The federal Veterans Administration “ cares about us, because my generation is there making sure we take care of our vets.'
He said he wants not only to continue to do a good job helping veterans get disability payments, but “I want to create wealth for my vets. Those who are service disabled now have 3 percent of federal contracts mandated to you by law.'
As for Fort Bayard, “ I want you to think out of the box on how you can use these buildings. We need to get the veterans into school,' Garcia said.
He suggested a “ green jobs' academy, with WNMU offering a bachelor’s degree in green technology.
“ Funding is available,' Garcia said. “Our job is to help you use this facility. Veterans are an economic engine for the state, and we vote.
“ We have to create a sense of urgency,' he continued. “That’s what we’re doing today. The biggest need is for beds. We have 160 beds statewide for aging veterans. The community has to put this project together.
“ Identify the need, then you will have the facility, and you decide what to do with the buildings,' Garcia said. “I see a win-win situation.'
Melanie Goodman, representing U. S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s office, reiterated that “ when the community comes together, we will be behind you.' She pointed out “Congress has increased funding for veterans in recognition of the needs.'
Sedillo read a letter from Dr. James Skee of Silver Health Care supporting a women veterans’ center.
“ I feel excited about what is being discussed and the potential of these ideas,' Bill Taylor, General Services Department Property Control Division director, said. “As the property owner of this facility, I have learned there are ways to do things quickly, but it is a relative term at the state level.
“ In a short time, theDepartment of Health will leave here (to move to a replacement facility),' Taylor pointed out. “We don’t have many options except to decommission the buildings until a revenue stream and a plan are in place. I need to be involved at every step. You have my support, because I would rather have Fort Bayard used and protected.'
A plan must be developed and costs for operations and maintenance must be determined, he emphasized.
“ I can help you execute the plan, but you need to show the dollars and cents,' Taylor said. “The state does not have the funding. It is important to stay the course and have the plan.'
Carla Buckner, a social worker at the Silver City VA clinic, pointed out that spouses of veterans also need services.
Cindy Van Bibber, superintendent of the Fort Bliss and Fort Bayard national cemeteries, asked Taylor what the time frame would be for transferring the facility for it to become a federal center.
“ I ask because I have been working for three years on getting some land to expand the cemetery here,' Van Bibber said. “So what kind of time frame are we looking at?'
Taylor reiterated the need for a plan before anything can happen. He later told the Daily Press that he can provide some funding for such a document.
Ed Conley, a Vietnam veteran, said he has seen promises before, but “nothing happens. The approach has to be holistic. It’s a perfect place for green technology. We need to help the veterans and the whole community.'
State Rep. Dianne Hamilton said the temporary Legislative Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, of which she is a member, has just been made permanent by the governor’s signature.
“I would like to bring the committee down here,' she said.
Garcia encouraged her “to bring the committee to Fort Bayard, create legislation and get it passed to support the initiative.'
To support the proposal or help in getting it developed, contact Sedillo at maryann. sedillo @ gmail. com or Brown at email@example.com.