Guest post by Doug Leonardo, Executive Director of BayCare Behavioral Health, a DCF partner.
He sat at the desk closest to the door in a classroom at the community college. He did not want to be there. His girlfriend and family pushed him to do it. “John” was back after several tours in Iraq and not yet 25 years old. He did not feel like he fit in anywhere, especially not in a classroom with a bunch of “kids.” In the back of the room was another veteran, “Steve.” The two had not yet met, but Steve was about to play a pivotal role in John’s life.
The professor was trying to engage John by asking him about his service in the military. He was asking questions about where he served, what he did, for how long and what it was like over there. Then he asked the question that nearly created a crisis, “Did you see any action over there?” Steve immediately saw the look that came over John’s face as his eyes went blank. Steve interrupted the professor and suggested the class take a break. John got up and walked out and Steve followed. The two talked and Steve knew John was hurting and close to being out of control. Steve had been where John was and knew that if he didn’t get help that the outcome would not be good.
Steve told John about a free support group for veteran’s offered by BayCare Behavioral Health. Steve knew about this group because he was the peer group facilitator who led the group open to all Veteran’s and their family members.
John took the information but did not appear to be interested. He did not go to the next few classes and Steve was concerned. One night at the support group, John walked in accompanied by his girlfriend. She had found the information Steve gave to him and convinced John to attend with her by his side. During the group John said nothing, again sitting near the door in case he felt like he needed to run. But John stayed and came back again and again. Eventually he started to participate in the group and eventually started to attend therapy sessions at BayCare Behavioral Health.
Today John is doing great. He is still going to class and has found a job. He continues to receive counseling services from us and seems to have turned the corner. Today BayCare Behavioral Health serves over 1,600 veterans annually and countless more family members in services that range from outreach to outpatient therapy to detox to residential and everything in between. We do this to help our service men, women and their families get the behavioral health services they need and deserve. They served us, so now it is our turn to serve them.
For ideas about how to start a veteran’s initiative in your community, contact me at (727) 841.4207 ext 252.
We send a heartfelt thank you to all our veterans. You served us, now let us serve you.
*Names were changed to protect privacy and confidentiality.