Local organizations offer mental health help for veterans

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YORK CITY, Pa. -- The recent shooting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, allegedly committed by a veteran suffering from mental illness, raises questions of how much help is available for vets in central Pennsylvania.

Mental illness and addiction are diseases many don't like to talk about, but it's a conversation that may help a veteran.

Safe Haven Treatment Services therapist Christian Murray said "often times they come home from the military and have many issues that are not diagnosed or misdiagnosed. It's not until later they run into problems, that they're willing to investigate these issues."

Getting help is not always as easy as simply reaching out to the VA Hospital in Lebanon County.

"Travel the whole way out to Lebanon is not ideal, and there may be other issues such as lack of availability such as beds and treatment options for them, there may be other road blocks in the way too, being lack of funding and lack of transportation," Murray said.

Veterans Helping Hand president Sandie Walker said "we still have veterans that are falling through the cracks, and that's just a matter of trying to make sure that everyone is accessible. Veterans still don't feel comfortable going to some of these big organizations."

Community or locally-based organizations such as Veterans Helping Hand or Safe Haven Treatment Services may fill that need.

"If we have a veteran that comes in that needs mental health services, we have a lot of veterans who have been there, gotten better, and now they can offer help also once a veteran can relate to another veteran they open up a little bit easier," Walker said.

Safe Haven Treatment Services program director John Houton said "they want someone who can understand their experience, somebody who has the combat experience, understands what it is to have lived and served under fire."

It's why Safe Haven will open its own treatment services program for vets in York City.

"Our founder is very passionate about helping veterans. He feels it's a group of people who have served their country, and we fail to take care of," Houton said.

"If we don't find them either a bed or the program they need for the help, then a lot of times that the motivation to seek help goes away, they fall back into the addiction the depression," Houton added.

Veteran's Helping Hand helps homeless vets, also has a working relationship with the York County Department of Veterans.

Volunteers at Veteran's Helping Hand can put vets in touch with people who can help.

It may not be easy to get treatment for someone who doesn't want help.

"Sometimes you have to slowly walk with individuals that are dealing with mental health issues, because if you come in aggressive, it kind of worsens the situation," Walker said.