It was in this environment that Jennifer Crane,28,tried to take her own life.
“I was a complete monster,” she said. “The thing I needed the most was actually the camaraderie and the support of my fellow veterans,and I didn’t have that.”
A program that will start in the fall may help others like Crane.
Community Blueprint,an online guide,will help community leaders,veterans organizations and government agencies coordinate to match veterans with local programs. The project is led by veterans counseling nonprofit Give an Hour in collaboration with 13 other veterans groups.
Give an Hour President Barbara Van Dahlen announced program’s launch Tuesday at a panel discussion about the needs of military families at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The Community Blueprint is the beginning of a movement,” she said. “We have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many.”
Crane enlisted in the Army when she was 17 and watched the Twin Towers collapse on television during her first day of basic training Sept. 11,2001. She served in Afghanistan before going home to Downingtown,Pa.,population 8,000,four years later. Her untreated post-traumatic stress disorder made life an “absolute nightmare.”
Crane turned to drugs,self-mutilation and later attempted suicide. She finally got access to treatment after a 2006 arrest for drug possession and continued counseling through Give an Hour.
“I didn’t even know that my local VA existed,” she said,referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs. “I had a VA five minutes down the street from me.”
Returning veterans who live away from military bases can experience difficulty finding treatment for the psychological effects of war or don’t know which organizations can help,said Adm. Michael Mullen,chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“A lot of what we’ve been going though is invisible to the nation,invisible to the communities,” he said. “The country knows we’re at war,knows we’re losing people,but does not have an in-depth understanding of what that means.”
Deborah Mullen,Mullen’s wife and military families advocate,said that veterans and their loved ones sometimes struggle to find counselors trained to treat their unique needs.
“I’ve talked to a number of individuals who have sought psychological counseling,and they sat in session after session trying to explain their lives,and they finally give up,” she said.
“At its core,this is a program about community organizing,” Van Dahlen said. “It’s all about doing the heavy lifting and connecting the dots that are there.”
Community Blueprint began in Fayetteville,N.C.,and Norfolk,Va.,in January and in Texas and Georgia in May.
Crane’s life has turned around. She works as an administrative assistant at Give an Hour and travels the country sharing her experiences with PTSD. She and her husband will celebrate their fourth anniversary in October,and her face lights up when she mentions her 3-year-old daughter.
It’s a life that veterans throughout the nation can have only if they can gain access to treatment and support,Crane said.
“The biggest thing is we need to be open minded,we need to provide the support and we need to be aware of where our veterans are,” she said. “I used to say I am PTSD,and I know today that I’m not.”
Reach reporter Nadia Tamez-Robledo at [email protected] or 202-326-9865
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