‘The time is now’ to help service members returning home from Afghanistan, local veteran says

US & World

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Now that America’s longest war has officially ended, R.I. Chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Dora Vasquez-Hellner said the country’s focus should shift to supporting the troops that are returning home.

“Our job here stateside has just begun,” she said.

Vasquez-Hellner said approximately 40% of soldiers who served post-9/11 will return with some form of physical or mental disability.

“Some of the disabilities we can readily see and some of the disabilities we can’t see, such as [Post-traumatic Stress Disorder],” she explained.

Vasquez-Hellner recommends Rhode Islanders returning from deployment take advantage of the Providence Clemente Veterans Initiative, which is a virtual, two-semester course that’s free and readily available for all service members.

“The objective of the course is to connect the humanities with our military experiences,” she said.

Vasquez-Hellner took the course last fall, during which she said participating veterans had “the chance to tell our stories.”

“I emphasize telling our stories because that is the way that we are going to heal ourselves from the inside,” she said. “Some of the veterans during this course expressed that some of the stories they shared with us they had not shared with anyone else, and that was because of the safe environment we created for each other.”

While the course involves a “good deal of reading,” Vasquez-Hellner said it’s good mental stimulation, especially for those suffering from PTSD.

“Some of us tend to think PTSD is a new discovery, but as you start reading about Achilles and Hector, you’ll quickly realize PTSD was experienced centuries ago and each person plays it out slightly different,” Vasquez-Hellner explained.

“The time is now for us to reach out to our brothers and sisters and lend a helping hand,” she continued. “It is our responsibility … to share with our younger veterans what benefits they’re eligible for and what services they’re eligible for.”

Below is a list of other resources available for veterans, active-duty service members and their families:

  • RIServes is a confidential network that provides peer-to-peer case management and can be reached by calling (401) 921-2119.
  • The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 and connects service members and veterans with responders through a confidential, toll-free hotline that can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255.
  • The Vet Center in Warwick provides a broad range of counseling, outreach programs and referral services to combat veterans and their families and can be reached by calling (401) 739-0167.
  • BH Link is a one-stop, statewide, 24/7 call-in center that connects people with appropriate care and resources when they, or someone they care about, is experiencing a behavioral health crisis and can be reached by calling (401) 414-LINK (5465).

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