PTSD counseling available on Navajo Nation

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FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) – Members of the Navajo Nation should have an easier time getting treated for post-traumatic stress disorder under a new agreement to place social workers on tribal land.

The Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System recently agreed to locate social workers in the Fort Defiance Hospital and the Chinle Veterans Center.

Though both facilities are in Arizona, their services likely will be available to any Navajo veteran who needs help, IHS spokeswoman Jenny Notah said.

About 40 percent of all combat veterans, or an estimated 25 million U.S. soldiers, experience PTSD, which causes nightmares, flashbacks and exaggerated startle responses.

George Lawson, a licensed clinical social worker and member of the Veterans Affairs PTSD Outreach Team who is based at the Fort Defiance Hospital, said he serves about 20 clients per week, including veterans of World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

Lawson said he did not know how many American Indian veterans are suffering from PTSD, but he thinks the problem is substantial.

“Tapping the numbers is difficult,” he said. “That’s part of why we’re here. We know the numbers are here, we just don’t know how great they are.”

The health care agreement, spearheaded by the Northern Arizona VA Health Care Center, came on the heels of a federal Veterans Affairs grant, spokeswoman Ame Callahan said.

The grant allows VA employees based in the Prescott, Ariz. area to provide counseling and services in the remote locations on tribal land.

“We wanted to take services to them instead of them having to travel a long way to us,”

Callahan said.

The agreement calls for the IHS to provide office space for the social workers. The counselors will work within existing facilities.

The two social workers will also help tribal members enroll with Veterans Affairs, get access to other health care options, counsel them on benefits and help them apply for disability benefits.

The Northern Arizona VA Health Care System also has plans to expand services to the Hopi Nation, Callahan said.

“Anyone can walk in as long as they’re veterans,” Callahan said. “We also have family members participate. We want to get the younger folks who just came back from the war, and the elders who can say they’ve been through it. We want people to feel safe talking about it.”

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