Local clinic has personal reasons for helping veterans overcome anxiety disorders

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POSTED: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 9:56pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 9:04pm

A recently-opened clinic is gaining attention from beyond Baton Rouge because of its commitment to the men and women who fight for our nation.

The Post Trauma Institute of Louisiana opened in January on Harrell's Ferry Road. It sees anyone, to help them through their mental health problems, but it takes pride in its work with veterans. Some had already come from as far away as Lake Charles and Shreveport, though the clinic did not market itself there.

"It's part of why we do what we do," said Lawrence Salone, who founded the clinic. "I'm a veteran, I know exactly what they go through, what a veteran goes through coming back home, and how the world just may not make as much sense."

Salone spent ten years as a member of the Louisiana National Guard, including an 18-month tour in Iraq. He understands the difficulties faced by many troops as they return home from war.

"When you come back and you take off the fatigues and put down the M-16s, or the M-4, and you pick back up your iPad, or you pick back up the task of the business that you left, it just... there's an adjustment period," he said.

Christina Barrios is a licensed social worker, and one of the therapists on PTI's staff. She works with a wide variety of patients, including some who served in the armed forces.

"And they go to work, but they don't know what their purpose is," she stated, "and they're having a hard time readjusting to everyday life and doing this kind of mundane things."

The support Americans show their troops often fades when s/he takes off the uniform. Even though they face life-or-death situations in war zones, many veterans struggle to adapt to the complexity of civilian life.

"In war," Salone stated, "your priorities are drilled down to four things: you want to eat; you want to sleep; execute your duties; and then you want to stay alive, you want to take care of your buddy. In those four things, I mean, life is really simple. It's manageable, cause there's a lot of moving pieces.

"When you come home, those four things expand to about 4,000. Think about it: you get up in the morning, you got the television on; you check your email; your spouse is telling you about the mortgage; you have the kids; you have the work. There's so many things that tug at you, and you hadn't processed that 18-month deployment and the things that you saw."

But many people expect those veterans to remain the strong, independent people who first signed up for duty.

"The way that translates to everyday interactions, that invincibility, that same guy that may be homeless, the same guy that may be in the ER room, he wants to get better," Salone said. "He's gonna fight, he's gonna fight to get better. He doesn't want you, he doesn't want me, to go and hand him out a thing. Just point him in the right direction."

Barrios believes many veterans do not seek help because they do not have peers who have used a therapist.

Salone added that others believe mental health problems are a defect, rather than something to treat.

"We have to take that stigma off of mental health," he said. "In my eyes, it's no different. Mental health is no different from physical ailments or physical challenges that we face. We just have to approach it the same way."

"It's not a sign of weakness," Barrios agreed. "You know, everybody needs help. And I think that that shows that you have insight when you know that you need to go to therapy and ask for help."

Salone said there are not enough resources out there to take of our veterans, and those that do exist are overburdened. That is why so many veterans fall through the cracks.

"And we see that with the increase in suicide rates. We see that with the increases in domestic violence. These are good people. These are good people that are just trying to figure out their way to get back home. And that's why we're here."

President Barack Obama said he wants to bring tens of thousands of troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the next year. Even though the wars in those countries are ending, the problem of veterans facing mental health problems shows no sign of going away.

"The reality of it is, we've been at war for ten years, over ten years," Salone said. "That's a huge mountain to climb. I don't think this problem goes away in five years, I think we better understand it in five years."

While getting information to veterans about available resources is important, "I think it's also going to involve a lot of education with their families," Barrios claimed, "and letting their families know that it's not an excuse, they're not excusing their behavior, they really are trying to work on things, but it's just going to take time."

Barrios said she uses a strengths-based approach with her patients. By getting her patients to identify with their positive qualities, they can overcome the negative aspects of acclimating to civilian life.

"I feel like when they leave here, and they feel a little bit more positive, even if it's just a tiny bit more positive about their lives, that I feel like I'm making a difference in helping them move towards where they want to be," she said.

If you or someone you know is a veteran who is considering suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. Louisiana has many suicide hotlines tailored to help different types of individuals; click here to view a list of them. For additional information about resources available to veterans, visit Warriors for Freedom.

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