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Program aims to reach vets seeking mental health treatments

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Stigma and shame continue to prevent some military veterans from seeking help for mental health issues. From the Behavioral Health Desk, Maiken Scott reports on a new program that aims to break through the barriers.


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In an environment that exalts courage and strength, it’s tough to admit you have a mental health problem, says Vietnam Vet Frank Plescha:

Plescha: Guys don’t want to come what I call out of the closet. So they would rather deal with those issues, for the most part they don’t deal with it

Plescha experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and wants to provide help for other vets – in a way they can accept. So the idea for “Healing Ajax” was born.

The program is named for a Greek warrior in Homer’s epics who goes mad and commits suicide. It relies mostly on veterans to guide returning soldiers who are struggling with mental health issues. Plescha says this peer-to-peer approach creates a basis of trust:

Plescha: As soon as you get put into the mental health box then that’s a bad word, so we wanted to approach it from the perspective that you’re talking to a guy who’s been there done that, and you have that trust factor, and that it’s okay to have those type of issues, they’re normal.

Veterans working for the program receive extensive training and are backed by professional therapists. Healing Ajax operates outside of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs – and offers counseling and services anonymously. The fear of having a mental health issue appear on military or employment records scares many vets away says David Oslin. He heads the behavioral health department for the Philadelphia VA hospital:

Oslin: Veterans should feel comfortable that what they tell us is private and we put a premium on that, so I think they SHOULD feel comfortable that what we’re doing is private and that it won’t get to their commanding officer no more than it would get to an employer

Funding for Healing Ajax currently comes from a social service provider called Resources for Human Development. The program is available in the Philadelphia region, and is being expanded throughout the country.

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