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February 27, 2013

Vets want counseling services in Lawrence

(Continued)

Vet Centers, which are run by the VA, can see veterans who have been accepted into the VA medical program but who have not yet been assigned a clinical counselor.

The need for Vet Centers has grown over the years with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan getting diagnoses and needing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other issues. At the same time, veterans from past wars still need counseling and treatment, some of them admitting it for the first time decades after their service.

Debrocke, a Vietnam veteran, waited 20 years before seeking help for PTSD, he said.

Veterans caught in the lurch, in between seeking help and actually getting help, can continue to suffer. “So what happens, then, is more suicides,” Debrocke said.

Silva and Debrocke have met with local political leaders, including Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, to begin the work of establishing a center here.

“We just started the process of looking into how we can support this effort and ensure that all veterans in greater Lawrence have access to the services and support they have earned,” Tsongas said.

Tsongas said she created a group of veterans services providers, the Third District Veterans Advisory Committee, to work with her office on veterans’ needs, and has staff members specifically assigned to veterans issues.

In an attempt to address a sharp increase in veteran suicides, the VA announced earlier this month that it has hired more than 1,000 new mental health clinical providers since last year, when retired general Eric Shinseki, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, set a goal of hiring 1,600 in total. In August, President Obama ordered that the positions be filled by June 30.

Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the VA is specifically exempt from the sequestration, the domestic spending and defense budget cuts scheduled to take effect on Friday.

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