Q&A with Cohen Veterans Network

·5 min read

Jun. 8—Dr. Amy Williams, Clinic Director of Cohen Veterans Network, spoke to the Athens Review on a topic of importance for Memorial Day. It is a time to remember the fallen, but we should also remember their families and friends who are left behind.

For those who lost someone personally, every day is Memorial Day and following a year of isolation, knowing how to support them is key. For veterans who lost someone and experienced deployment themselves, there are scars such as post traumatic stress disorder, that need support as well. Dr. Williams offers wisdom on how we can honor both.

Q: How has the isolation of 2020 impacted those grieving for our lost veterans?

A: The isolation that many people have experienced during the pandemic has been challenging for all. According to the April 2020 America's Mental Health COVID-19 Pulse Study, two-thirds, 64%, of Americans reported feeling anxious, and half, 49%, cited feeling lonely or isolated as a result of the pandemic.

Think about the impact of grieving the loss of a service member or veteran, in addition to the anxiety, isolation, and loneliness that many Americans were already feeling.

Everyone grieves in a different way, but mental health professionals agree that social support is an important aspect of grief recovery. Limits on in-person gatherings changed the way that loved ones were able to gather and grieve during the pandemic, making it more difficult to access the support networks that are normally a key part of their recovery.

It's important to take isolation seriously because, over time, it can lead to greater problems with anxiety and depression and increase substance use. Making the first step to reach back out and reintegrate can be challenging. If someone is struggling to reconnect or feeling hopeless, it might be time to reach out to a professional.

Q: How can we support the fallen's battle buddies and loved ones who are left behind?

A: Families who have lost service members in the line of duty were faced with the same pressures as many Americans during the pandemic. In many cases, people were not able to hold memorial services, or these services looked different than usual with social distancing and masks. As with single service members or veterans, a main challenge in daily life for these families has been the lack of social support due to the need for social distancing.

It can be difficult to know what to say to those who have lost a loved one. If you're not sure what to do, offering tangible acts of service right after a loss can be helpful. For example, make meals or help take care of children and pets, so the grieving adult can have self-care time. If you're not able to be there in-person, taking the time to call and ask about those left behind is meaningful.

We often assume that "someone else" is doing the reaching out, the helping with household chores, the inviting over to dinner. However, shortly after the death of a friend or loved one, when the majority of support fades away, the grieving still continues. It is never too late to check in, share photos and memories, and offer a listening ear to the person who has experienced loss. Your seemingly small act of support can have a powerful impact on that person's mental wellbeing.

Q: What can be done to support veterans who struggle with PTSD?

June is PTSD Awareness Month, and it's important for us to let trauma survivors know that their symptoms are treatable. There is hope. Support from loved ones is key to the recovery process, so here are some things you can do:

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It's important not to take the withdrawal or anger personally. Remember that these are symptoms of a health challenge that are treatable.

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If the veteran starts to open up to you, give your full attention, and don't judge or give advice unless they ask for it. Let them know the door is open for you to just listen.

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Encourage them to join you at social gatherings as much as possible, so they can connect with others.

Q: Tell our readers about your facility and Carry the Load.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Metrocare provides evidence-based mental health care to post-9/11 veterans, active duty service members, and their families, including the National Guard and Reserves.

We're located in Addison, but we provide the same high-quality therapy to the East Texas area virtually with Telehealth. We eliminate barriers to the veteran/military community receiving the mental health care it needs. That means we help regardless of role in uniform, discharge status, or ability to pay.

Here's some background on our organization: Established in 2016, Cohen Veterans Network, a national nonprofit network of mental health clinics for post-9/11 veterans and military families, partnered locally with Metrocare, the largest provider of behavioral health services in Dallas County, to ensure that every veteran and family member has access to high-quality mental health care that enables them to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

Together, we have served over 2,000 veterans and family members since opening — and we recently expanded our services to active duty service members. The Cohen Clinic is excited to be a nonprofit partner with Carry the Load because they highlight the true meaning of Memorial Day.

When I first attended a Carry The Load event several years ago, I was emotionally impacted by the stories people shared and how the event created a space for remembering those we have lost.

This Memorial Day, I am carrying Tympany Mileger, a former Cohen Clinic employee and U.S. Air Force veteran. I am also carrying all the men and women who have shared their stories of loss with me as their therapist.

If you or someone you care about is impacted by grief and loss this Memorial Day or any time, please reach out to the Cohen Clinic. We exist to support the mental health of post-9/11 veterans, active duty service members, and their families.

For more information about how we can help, you can give us a call at 469-680-3500 or visit our website www.metrocareservices.org/mfc.

For those still living with the struggles of PTSD, Dr. Williams has written an article on this topic at www.cohenveteransnetwork.org/proven-treatments-ptsd/

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