Saratoga County's new peer-based mentoring program for military veterans is up and running.
The program now has eight veteran volunteers trained to serve as mentor-counselors to others who want help re-adjusting to civilian life, said Amy Hughes, program coordinator.
It is also accepting applications for more potential mentors, with training planned for April, Hughes said.
The county is one of four around the state selected to set up pilot counseling programs under the Pfc. Joseph Dwyer Veterans Peer to Peer Program established by the state Legislature last year.
Dwyer was an Iraq veteran from Long Island who committed suicide while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in 2008.
The belief underlying the peer-to-peer approach is that veterans suffering from post-combat stress or needing help readjusting to civilian life will accept help more readily from another veteran than from government.
"We're finding its very effective," Hughes said. "It isn't someone associated with mental health or associated with government, just someone to work with them and be there for them."
Help in many ways
The peer mentors can help veterans get in touch with counseling resources, get education, or land a job, and can work with them on developing better family and community connections.
Hughes has a degree in counseling and is married to a career Navy veteran. She has previously worked with veterans on discharge issues and finding civilian employment.
The intended audience for the peer-to-peer program is veterans who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years and may be suffering from PTSD, have a traumatic brain injury, or are experiencing readjustment problems. Hughes said Vietnam veterans are also showing interest.
"We've had several Vietnam veterans who are interested. They never had anything like this," Hughes said.
The goal of the Legislature is to reduce the number of suicides among veterans.
Hard numbers on veterans' suicides are hard to come by, though the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates it could be as many as 18 per day nationwide.
A Brown University study in 2011 found that drunken driving, auto accidents and crash deaths are all higher among new veterans than among the general population.
The other three counties participating in the pilot program are Rensselaer, Suffolk and Jefferson.
Evaluated by UAlbany
Rensselaer County is contracting with the Mental Health Empowerment Project of Albany to provide services, while Saratoga County decided to run the program itself with a part-time coordinator.
The University at Albany will evaluate all four county programs after two years and then recommend which practices should be used statewide.
People looking for a mentor or wanting to volunteer for the program may call 884-4999, at the county Veterans Service Agency in Ballston Spa.