Wayne Miller’s mother signed the waiver for him to enter the Marine Corps at age 17. When he lost his leg and was temporarily paralyzed at age 18 due to a mortar attack in Vietnam, she and his father stepped in to care for him and feed him. “She blamed herself for years,” Miller said.
Back then there was no counseling available for the parents, children or spouses of combat troops. Today Vet Centers in 300 community locations across the country offer free counseling to military family members. Yet too few qualified family members know the program is open to them.
Miller, now a social worker, welcomed First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to the Vet Center in Silver Spring, Maryland April 17. Mrs. Obama and Biden came to the center to meet privately with team members and veterans and to shine a light on the services available to military family members.
“I think a lot of people have preconceived notion of what Vet Centers are and what they do,” Mrs. Obama said. “Its important for this new generation to know that they are here, new and modern.”
In addition to helping vets readjust to military life, the Vet Centers offer mental health counseling, family therapy, sexual trauma counseling and group counseling as well as outreach and referrals. They have added Integrated Behavioral Couples Therapy, an evidenced-based couples therapy that can help families coping with the avoidance and numbness symptoms that can be part of military related post traumatic stress.
The Vet Center works to respond to the needs of the local community. “Whatever the need is, we create (a solution),” said family therapist Tamia Barnes.
When team members noted that some veterans had a problem with hoarding, they created a hoarding group. They also offer a Significant Others group.
Most of the 500 vets and family members who use the Silver Spring Vet Center each month found out about it through the focused outreach of the team members at churches, schools and veteran service organizations or from other veterans who have used the Vet Center.
Services are confidential and completely free of change.
“There are a lot of veterans who don’t know that these resources exist, and that’s the thing we want to change,” Obama said. “Every vet, every family member should know there are places like this that feel like home, with people who are professional, that are trained, who know how to deal with any issue.”
Photo courtesy Veterans Affairs Administration and Jacey Eckhart.