A county-run, peer-to-peer counseling program for military veterans with mental health problems has received an additional $185,000 in funding in the new state budget.
The funding, announced by state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, will allow a two-year extension of Saratoga County’s participation in the PFC Joseph Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Counseling Program.
The county’s counseling program just became operational this winter under the first $200,000 state grant, which was awarded in the 2012 state budget.
Four counties around the state — including Saratoga and Rensselaer — were picked for the initial pilot programs, though the goal is to develop a peer-to-peer system that could be employed around the state. Rensselaer County also got another $185,000.
The program’s goal is to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as earlier conflicts, to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-war symptoms that have led to a high rate of suicide among veterans.
“Supporting the troops has to be more than just a slogan — we need to match our words with a sustained commitment to funding vital services and important initiatives like the PFC Joseph Dwyer PTSD Peer-to-Peer Veterans Counseling program,” Marchione said at an Albany rally last month.
Other state legislators have estimated 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have experienced PTSD.
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.
Many officials believe that support from trained fellow veterans — peer-to-peer counseling — can be more effective than traditional mental health counseling in helping veterans.
Dwyer was an Iraq War veteran from Long Island who committed suicide while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in 2008. His home district senator, Sen. Lee Zeldin, initiated the program in his honor; former state Sen. Roy McDonald, who represented Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, was one of the other prime sponsors.
Saratoga County now has eight trained peer counselors, and there are plans for training additional counselors. The program is administered through the county’s Veterans Service Agency.
Also at a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors Veterans Committee Monday in Ballston Spa, county management analyst Ryan Moore reported that the county is “back to square one” with efforts to name a section of state highway near the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in honor of the county’s veterans.
In 2012, the Board of Supervisors proposed a route running along several state highways between Saratoga Springs and the cemetery in the town of Saratoga. The designation requires approval from the state Legislature.
The state Department of Transportation, however, said such designations can only be applied to a single road, with signs only at either end. Such signs can’t be used to direct motorists to a particular destination, Moore said he was told.
So now, county leaders plan to revert to a previous proposal to designate the section of routes 4 and 32 between Schuylerville and Waterford as the “Saratoga County Veterans Memorial Highway.” That road is also a major route to the cemetery.
“It’s frustrating to be back to the drawing board, but at least the proper research is being done this time,” Moore told the committee.