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Veteran Says Counseling Group Saved Her Life

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2011 – A combat veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress told an audience here today that without the help offered by one nonprofit organization, she wouldn’t be alive.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to conference attendees at Give An Hour, a conference addressing the needs of military families, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., June 14, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Jennifer Crane, a 28-year-old Army veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in 2003, said Give an Hour, founded by clinical psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, offered the free counseling she needed to get her life back.

Give an Hour was among several organizations that participated in a press conference and panel discussion focusing on support for veterans. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave the keynote address at the event held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

In describing her challenges, Crane said she got more than she bargained for after deciding to join the Army at 17.

“My first day of basic training was Sept. 11, 2001,” she said. “I was sitting with a platoon of strangers as the towers fell that day, and my drill sergeants said we were all going to war. They were absolutely right.”

In Afghanistan, Crane said, she saw combat and developed chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It will be eight years this October since I came home, but the experiences still live inside me like it was yesterday,” she said. “It’s still difficult for me to talk about.”

After she returned from Afghanistan, Crane said, she didn’t know where to turn, and for a time was part of the “large percentage of the homeless population” who are veterans.

“It took years of agony before I was able to find help,” she said, adding that there probably are thousands “of people out there just like me who are suffering, and who need the help.”

Crane said the needs of veterans include health care, a support system, a home, an education, employment and society’s acceptance.

“Our vets are struggling to maintain these simple necessities,” she said. “If we cannot come together and find a solution … we will be doing our country a great disservice.”

It wasn’t until she found Give an Hour, Crane said, that she felt hope for her future.

Give an Hour is an association of mental health professionals who offer free counseling for service members, veterans, their families and unmarried partners. With more than 5,600 providers ranged across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam, the organization’s officials estimate members have provided around 40,000 hours of free service.

“The birth of my daughter in 2008 left me in complete shambles,” Crane said. “My [post-traumatic stress disorder] was stronger than ever.”

Without the counselor she found through Give an Hour, “I don’t think I could stand here talking with you today,” she said. “I no longer feel broken … instead, I feel whole.”

While every day is still a struggle, Crane said, “The generosity of my therapist, my community, and the love of my family has given me the faith in society that I so desperately needed.”

Sometimes all people need is to feel someone cares, Crane said, which is why she shared her story at today’s event.

“My community did not have the tools to help me when I came home,” she said. “But sitting here today, you are all proof that we are changing history by banding together.”

Crane urged nonprofit members in the audience to continue their support, and added, “If you’re a veteran, a service member, family of a service member or even friend of a service member, seek the help you need.”

For veterans and their families dealing with the after effects of war, she said, “It can only get better from here.”

Crane said she is now married to her best friend, and is “a fully capable mother” of her 3-year-old daughter.

“I can now manage my condition, and have hope for a better tomorrow,” she said.

Some scars are invisible, and everyone has them, Crane said.

“It is what we choose to do with them that makes the difference,” she concluded.

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