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Counseling Lima Company

posted Aug 26, 2011, 3:41 PM by Info @NesloVentures   [ updated Aug 26, 2011, 3:42 PM by Neslo Ventures ]

In 2005, a Columbus-based Marine Reserve unit suffered staggering losses during their deployment to Iraq. Lima Company lost 48 Marines — many of them lived near Dr. Umana’s Vet Center.

The Columbus bereavement program saw an influx of friends and relatives in need. Dr. Umana and her team of counselors led a multiple family bereavement group for two years.

The bereavement counselors were able to become a part of the Lima Company family, supporting them as they reconfigured themselves around their lost family members. Group and individual counseling were the first offered as a part of the all-encompassing support services offered by this unique Vet Center program.

“We’ve seen 44 families — and sometimes that’s spouses, sometimes that’s parents, sometimes that’s siblings. I’ve even had fiancés that have come in. And some of these families are fractured, so we have needed to assign more than one counselor to a family,” Dr. Umana said.

For as long as the family needs them, counselors offer assistance with everyday things like job placement and picking out a new school. Counselors are also familiar with the VA system so they can help navigate families through the benefits enrollment process and setting up counseling services.

Bereavement counselors have learned to become flexible in the face of family dynamics and the very personalized grief process.

“Everybody has their own relationship with the deceased, so they all need their own time to deal with the loss,” said Lisa McLaughlin, a social worker and bereavement counselor at the Raleigh, N.C. Vet Center.

“Sometimes they come in and there’s pressure to get a lot of things off their chest — and then they may come back later. People come and go as they need to, that’s encouraged.”

In the case of the families and surviving members of Ohio’s Lima Company, Dr. Umana said she has remained in touch with some support group members. The father of one Marine shared his story of coping:

“People look at me now that it’s been 5-6 months since my son’s died and ask, ‘Are you OK?’” he related to Dr. Umana.

“I wasn’t sick and I’m not going to get better,” he replied. “It’s more like somebody ripped my arm off — and I really liked my arm and I’ll really miss it.

“I guess what I have to do is become the best one-armed man I can be.”

“The goal is to get them stabilized, at least as functional as they were before [the death],” Dr. Umana said. “To move from being just devastated by the loss to re-formulating their definition of themselves, so it incorporates the loss of this person they loved. That’s the transformation I try to help them with.”

The “psycho-social” program

Involvement in the program on the part of the family members is voluntary. Program founder and VHA’s Chief Readjustment Counseling Officer Dr. Alfonso Batres explained that this was the best approach to gain the trust of grieving family members.

“The word ‘counseling’ comes with a certain connotation,” he said. “Grieving is a normal response and we are not there to infer that they have a mental health problem.”

Dr. Batres describes the Vet Centers as a “psycho-social” program where Veterans and their families can turn for help with their problems. While society is often in a rush to move on from death, counselors who volunteer for the Bereavement Program are screened and trained to help a mourner figure out how best to memorialize their loved one.

“It’s been an open learning process from the start,” he said. “We did not anticipate the amount of social services these families would need. We triage the families, provide counseling where needed, then we link them up to [local community] services. We’ve networked with local community agencies, like TAPS [Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors], so people don’t fall through the cracks.”

Attention to the needs of Veterans and their families was the impetus for this program. Families who found comfort through the services of the bereavement counselors have made their local Vet Center their home.

“At the Vet Center many of us have a really close connection to the military, so this is extremely meaningful to us,” said Dr. Greg Inman, Team Leader at the Raleigh Vet Center. “So it’s an honor to share in their grief, their journey.

“In order for you to be helpful to the family, you have to be present. You have to hear the painful story — oftentimes you hear it over and over again — but you have to hear the story.”

Related Link:
  Vet Center Bereavement Counseling

Learning to Live with Loss

posted Aug 26, 2011, 3:36 PM by Info @NesloVentures   [ updated Aug 26, 2011, 3:39 PM by Neslo Ventures ]

a group of people stand in front of flags

The Bereavement Counseling team at the Columbus, Ohio Vet Center: (from left) G. Scott Johnson, PhD; Roseann Umana, PhD; Mark Madry, MSW; and James Sizemore.

Coping with loss is a very personal, sacred experience. Handling the lifestyle changes that result from losing a loved one may seem significant when compared with the emotional toll that a loved one’s death can have. It is not something that has to be experienced alone, though.

Every military family is aware of the distressing prospect of seeing a uniformed Casualty Assistance Officer at their front door. VA realized the importance of offering help right away and maintaining that assistance for as long as the family member needs it.

The Vet Center Bereavement Counseling Program offers support and counseling services to parents, siblings, spouses, and children of service members who have died while on active duty. Counselors are ready to offer assistance when are contacted by the Casualty Assistance Officers or when they receive a referral from a concerned friend.

The program standard is to contact family members within two hours of receiving the referral and make a face-to-face visit within two days.

“To sit with somebody who’s experiencing that much grief is very humbling and makes you aware that, in an instant, you could be in that situation,” said Dr. Roseann Umana, bereavement counselor at the Columbus Vet Center. “The first visit, I expect I’ll be there for a couple of hours, because they need to talk.

“It’s very intense — I feel pretty tired when I leave,” she added. “It’s not technically difficult, in terms of [counseling] skills, but it’s emotionally difficult. I have to go there knowing that I can’t fix it, because this is not a fixable thing.”

“Everybody has their own relationship with the deceased — so they all need their own time to deal with the loss.”

Lisa McLaughlin, social worker and bereavement counselor at the Raleigh, N.C. Vet Center

Forrest Gump's impact on disabled veterans

posted Aug 26, 2011, 1:29 PM by Info @NesloVentures   [ updated Aug 26, 2011, 3:45 PM by Neslo Ventures ]

"CSI" actor tells what impact his "Forrest Gump" character has on real-life disabled veterans

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Actor Gary Sinise is very public about his support for disabled service members.

"I have Viet Nam veterans in my family on my wife's side," said Sinise, in town Monday for a rally for quadriplegic Todd Nicely. "On my side, WWII vets. My Dad was in the Navy, and so I have great respect for those who serve our country. After 'Forest Gump' I got involved with the Disabled American Veterans because I played a disabled vet."

Currently, Sinise stars in "CSI: New York," but the character Sinise played in the movie "Forrest Gump" was Lt. Dan, who becomes disabled in the movie.

"I mean, I'm playing a character," said Sinise. "They took my legs off with a computer, or I sat on them and tried to make them disappear and everything. So when I go to the hospital, and meet seriously injured service members who are living this, they somehow think I know what they're going through. I don't, really. I acted it. But I have a profound respect for those who have to continue on in life with these severe disabilities."

On Monday, Sinise announced that his group The Lt. Dan Band will perform at a May 27, Memorial Day Weekend fundraiser at the St. Charles Family Arena. The aim of the concert is to raise money for a specially-equipped home for wounded U.S. Marine Todd Nicely, 26, of Arnold. Nicely lost his arms and legs a year ago when he was wounded in Afghanistan.

Sinise says the estimated cost of the home is between $500,000 and $600,000.

Advocating for Survivors of America’s Veterans

posted Aug 26, 2011, 1:02 PM by Info @NesloVentures   [ updated Aug 26, 2011, 1:04 PM by Neslo Ventures ]

By Debra Walker May 10, 2011 at 10:06 am

For everyone, the death of a loved one is a life changing event. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is here to assist survivors in making the necessary transition with benefits assistance, counseling and support during the weeks, months and years ahead.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said “Taking care of survivors is as essential as taking care of our Veterans and military personnel.” He added, “By taking care of survivors, we are honoring a commitment made to our Veterans and military members.” To this end, VA has a long tradition of assisting the survivors and dependents of America’s Veterans. Through education programs, health care, financial support and more, VA is honored to continue our relationship with the surviving families of America’s heroes.

In 2008 under guidance from Congress and VA’s own Working Group on Survivors, VA stood up the Office of Survivors Assistance (OSA). OSA works within the Office of the Secretary providing policy guidance to VA leadership on Survivor issues as well as outreach to the Survivor community. Over the years, VA has learned that many potential beneficiaries are not aware of what services are available to Survivors or the eligibility criteria for the various programs. As such, one of the steps taken by OSA has been the development of our website to provide users with helpful information, application forms, and other useful links.

If you are a spouse, child, or parent of a Veteran, we strongly encourage you to visit our website to learn more about what services are offered by VA to the Survivor community. Likewise, if you are a Veteran and would like to help your loved ones plan for the future, we invite you to our website.

Advocating for Survivors of America’s Veterans is our honor and privilege.  It is our mission to make sure Veterans’ survivors do not fall through the cracks, as VA’s mission to serve those who have borne the battle is not over when Taps is played. The Office of Survivors Assistance is eager to help you during this time of profound transition and we offer our services with a spirit of excellence that we hope you will find to be beneficial.

Debra Walker is the Director of the Office of Survivors Assistance. An Army veteran, she serves as the primary adviser to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on all policies, programs, legislative issues, and other initiatives affecting survivors and dependents of deceased veterans and service members.

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