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Mass. Expanding Health Care for Vets
U-Wire  |  February 13, 2008
BOSTON -- A new program launched Feb. 11 by the state Veterans' Services and Public Health departments promises there will be more than yellow ribbons and financial aid to welcome home Massachusetts veterans returning from active duty with emotional problems.

About 60 war veterans and advocates, including state officials and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, gathered in the hallway of the State House Grand Staircase to learn how the Statewide Advocacy for Veterans' Empowerment program aims to prevent suicide through community advocacy, mental health awareness and treatment referrals.

Veterans' Services Secretary Thomas Kelley said SAVE will act as a liaison between veterans and their families and agencies within the federal and state governments.

More information and resources on PTSD

Though suicide rates for returning active-duty Soldiers are at an all-time high, Massachusetts has more funding for suicide prevention than any other state, said Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby.

She said Massachusetts has become a leader in providing support for veterans, who are seven times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, according to the Public Health Department.

Public and private figures shared their stories during the conference, with Kerry addressing the audience to explain how veterans of the Vietnam War, in which he served as a gunboat commander, were the first U.S. Soldiers to speak about the realities of war and advocate for the creation of outreach service programs.

"We're making an effort to reach out and break through the warrior culture," he said. "What we're doing here today is not new, but an extension of what came before."

Kerry said Soldiers are not a representation of a war itself and they need help to overcome any trauma that results from their service.

"Never confuse the warriors with the war," he said. "There are difficult burdens and scars."

A late-arriving attendee dressed in Army garb placed a uniform and folded flag behind the podium, while Kevin and Joyce Lucey told the story of their son Jeffery, a Marine who killed himself after returning from service in Iraq.

The Luceys said their son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, struggling through panic attacks and nightmares. Because he could not find the help or resources to cope with his mental problems, he began drinking heavily, they said.

"The war is not over when Soldiers come home," Joyce Lucey said. "The battle is just beginning."

Kevin Lucey said veterans need to have safe haven and called SAVE as an important step in that direction.

According to Veterans' Services Department statistics, 25 percent of the 28,000 war veterans living in Massachusetts have some kind of mental condition because of their service. Only 27 percent of that number seek help.

"Getting it out there and eliminating the distance between the people who need help and [the ones that can supply it]" is the hardest part of their mission, said SAVE outreach assistant Daniel Brennan, whose father is a war veteran.

Use your GI Bill before time runs out!

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