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LAFC welcomes veterans back home

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By Kelly LeVan

A year to 18 months is a long time to spend away from one’s family, especially if one has children. Yet veterans have to deal with this situation all the time.While he or she is deployed, the non-military spouse picks up the brunt of the responsibilities, acting essentially as a single parent while juggling all the normal, everyday stressors as well. Meanwhile, the mother or father serving in the armed forces does not get to be part of countless family experiences.When he or she comes home, “the roles have changed and everyone has to adjust – the veteran often feels really out of place,” said Dana Darrow, LISW, who recently secured a $15,000 grant to allow Los Alamos Family Council (LAFC) to increase its support for veterans.The United Way grant will extend services for all Los Alamos and Rio Arriba County veterans – anyone who has served in the military, regardless of combat experience.Darrow, who previously worked under a VA contract with El Centro Family Health in Española, said she is “very aware of the needs of veterans, especially those returning from Iraq. It’s a difficult transition to come back.”Veterans not only have to re-assimilate into their own families, but to go back to work, which, while most employers are very understanding, Darrow said can be overwhelming.“A lot of veterans I’ve talked to were police officers or worked in prisons,” she said. “These are high-risk, stressful jobs. It’s difficult to go back to them after military experience.”Also, “there’s a tremendous amount of post-traumatic stress,” said Program Director Cheryl Pongratz, adding that grief and shock over seeing their friends killed or wounded takes time to work through.“The thing we’re seeing with Iraqi Freedom veterans is that the injuries are horrible – the bombs mutilate them,” Darrow said. “The wait is more than a year to get into orthopedics at the VA – there are so many soldiers in need.”Pongratz said that thanks to the grant, LAFC would offer support groups for veterans and their families, as well as counseling, assessments of mental health and referral information.A children’s support group, for offspring of currently deployed soldiers, will be made possible in part by a separate $1,000 grant from the Los Alamos Kiwanis Club.All veterans’ services will be free.“Northern New Mexico has always been very patriotic,” Darrow said, “so we’ve always had a lot of veterans. They deserve all the services they can get, and this is one small way to help with that effort.”“We’re just getting started and really happy we’re doing this,” Pongratz said. “There is such a need for veteran services in this area.”Call Darrow at 662-3264 for more information. Darrow also is available to answer questions about veterans’ benefits. The Family Council is located at 1505 15th St., Suite A.