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Vet Center is there to help

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Todd Welvaert

The Quad City Vet Center is ready to help veterans on a sometimes difficult path home. Pat Walsh, head counselor at the center, is shown here in front of a picture of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

MOLINE -- It is a sad irony that following times of war, while the United States has enjoyed peace, some of its warriors have been left in a silent pain.

Many veterans know the road home is not always easy.

When they experience problems in the readjustment, they can find help in the form of the Quad City Vet Center.

``We are here to help,'' Pat Walsh, head counselor at the Vet Center and a Vietnam veteran said. ``That's the most important thing -- that there is a place veteran's can go for help.''

Although the Vet Center provides a multitude of services for veterans, including an emergency food bank, job referral service, training programs, educational services and transportation to the VA hospital in Iowa City, perhaps the most important service the Vet Center offers is counseling for the malady known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

``You see it manifest itself in different ways in different people,'' Mr. Walsh said. ``Its diagnosis was confirmed as a legitimate social disorder and can be characterized as a mental numbing or isolation. Often the people who suffer PTSD will relive experiences of extreme stress and it is sometimes accompanied by substance abuse. It is one of the more prevalent problems we treat here.''

It has been known for many years but was called my numerous names. Whatever its name -- ``shell shock,'' ``combat fatigue'' or the more poetic ``soldier heart'' -- it has hunted veterans of all of the nation's many armed conflicts.

``The popular image is of the troubled Vietnam veteran, but it is not limited to that war,'' Mr. Walsh said. ``The center was established by congressional mandate for readjustment counseling by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1979, after we saw a lot of Vietnam-era veterans experiencing readjustment problems. Since then, our scope has been enlarged to include World War II and Korean War, Desert Storm, Somalia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama veterans and military personnel who were the victim of sexual trauma or harassment.''

Mr. Walsh said the bulk of the center's PTSD clients are Vietnam veterans. However, the center is seeing an increasing number of veterans from Korea and World War II.

``It's something we have noticed over the last few years,'' Mr. Walsh said. ``A lot of those guys are retiring or reaching retirement and they managed to bury a lot of feelings in their work. Now that they can't do that, things are coming to the surface. We still see new cases, it might be a job loss, a divorce or a death of a family member, something that brings that intense stress back.''

Mr. Walsh said the Korean War veterans share similar feelings with many of the Vietnam War veterans.

``The Korean War veterans, who have been forgotten for a long, long time, experience many of the same feelings,'' Mr. Walsh said. ``A lot of the times, they are just pleased to have someone help them validate their experience.''

The Quad City Vet Center, one of 200 centers nationwide, is a shared office with the Cedar Rapids Vet Center. Mr. Walsh said between the two offices, counselors have seen about 8,500 veterans since they were opened.

``Most of the counselors are staffed by military veterans,'' Mr. Walsh said. ``In the Moline office, we have two Vietnam veterans, one Vietnam-era veteran and one counselor who was the child of a career Army family, so everyone is pretty familiar with some of the problems that veterans face. Having something like this available in the area is valuable for the community. This office's existence is due mainly to the influence of Lane Evans, who is also a Vietnam (era) veteran.''

The counselors provide individual or group therapy, marital and family counseling, substance abuse information and referral, all for free.

``I got into this for a number of reasons,'' Mr. Walsh said. ``After the war, I took advantage of the services offered and it helped me change my life's direction. It's been the best and the most fulfilling job I have ever had.''

-- By Todd Welvaert (February 9, 1998)

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