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Post-traumatic stress services offered in northern Arizona

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CHINLE, Ariz. -- Navajo and Hopi veterans of northern Arizona will now
receive the counseling, services and traditional ceremonies they may need
to help them re-adjust to civilian life after the traumatic stress of
combat or military service.

On Jan. 18, the Northern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System
officially launched its expansion of services for the Navajo and Hopi
nations with a dedication at the Chinle Community Center.

"This was a long day coming," said Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr.,
one of several speakers to address the 150 vets, their families, friends
and officials who gathered to honor those who served in the military.

"I feel that it should have happened a long time ago."

Shirley acknowledged the service of thousands of Navajo veterans going back
to World War II, noting that many have never been recognized for their
selfless service nor received the benefits they are entitled to. In many
cases, he said, they may not have received a Navajo ceremony to help them
to adjust to life after combat.

"In some cases there is irreparable harm done to their minds," Shirley
said. "We're indebted to you. Now I can safely say there's going to be some
help for them."

The president said that because of a lack of available services until now,
the Navajo Nation and numerous families have lost their veterans to alcohol
and substance abuse -- often a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now, he said, working with traditional healers and herbalists, there are
ways to help better the lives of Navajo servicemen and women returning from
hazardous duty.

"It has to be that way," Shirley said. "Other ways don't work. Working
together is how this program came to be and that's how it should be."

In a historic partnership between the Navajo Nation, the Chinle
Comprehensive Health Care Facility, the NAVAHCS and the Chinle Veterans
Outreach Center, PTSD services will be offered to veterans living in
northeastern Arizona from the Chinle Veterans Outreach Center by VA
providers.

Services began on Dec. 5, 2005, are available in Chinle and are open to all
eligible veterans.

PTSD is treatable. It begins as a normal response to an extremely abnormal
experience such as combat. It can happen to anyone. If the trauma is severe
enough, the veteran may chronically re-experience the traumatic events.

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Veterans who have served in combat often experience PTSD and commonly
develop other conditions such as alcohol use disorder, depression and even
suicide.

The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment Expansion Program is being
funded through a new three-year, $250,000 grant, which has been used to
hire three counselors to provide PTSD treatment services to Navajo and
northern Arizona veterans.

The new grant comes from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental
Health Strategic Health Care Group. Its purpose is to expand existing
services for vets suffering from PTSD in northeastern Arizona. It will
expand services now offered in Chinle, Keams Canyon, Bellemont and
Cottonwood.

The expanded program allows veterans to see a counselor to receive services
that could include Navajo ceremonies provided by VA-employed Navajo
medicine man Albert Laughter.

David Fero of NAVAHCS, who is credited with seeking the grant, told the
audience at the dedication that veterans have paid a high price in the
decline of their health to serve the country -- and some are still paying
it.

"Many don't understand what is happening in their lives," he said. "They
may experience horror, dreams, unwanted flash-backs or just be unable to
interact with others."

He said some symptoms of PTSD are over-vigilance, disillusionment, loss of
hope, or withdrawal from family and community.

"Many lose their self-esteem," he said. "But with understanding, there can
be hope and help."

He said that with the assistance of the expanded program and the care of
their families, vets can transition from military life back into society
and function well again. They can experience reduced anxiety and develop
coping skills.

The NAVAHCS plan is to create an outreach team that will visit the Navajo
and Hopi nations on a regular basis. The program will provide three social
workers trained in PTSD care to provide group, individual and family
counseling to assist in PTSD therapy.

The group treatment will teach social skills and cognitive behavioral
methods of self-management of symptoms. The NAVAHCS will work
collaboratively with tribes to integrate spiritual, cultural and family
support for the veterans treated.

For information or to contact a counselor, call (800) 949-1005 or the
NAVAHCS counselors at (928) 674-1223 or (928) 674-1143. The number for the
Chinle Veterans Center is (888) 707-6790.