Metro-East News

Conference strives to help returning military

When military personnel come back from a war zone, a community needs to give everything it has to help them transition back to civilian life, author Edward Tick said Friday from the stage of the Faith Family Church in Shiloh.

“Not just benefits, (but) love, compassion, time, listening, understanding and tending (to them) in every way necessary so when warriors come home they feel like there is a circle of protection around them,” Tick said. “When we fail that, we break our social contract.”

Tick, the author of “Soldier’s Heart,” among other books, was one of the speakers at the second annual No Family Left Behind Conference at Faith Family Church.

People learned about traumatic brain injury, how to help veterans adjust to being back in the civilian world, how to deal with anxiety and post-traumatic stress among other things during the first day of the two-day conference.

The event includes representatives from the East St. Louis Veterans Center, the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Alpha Omega Christian Counseling, Trinity Services, the Caregiver Support Initiative and Allsup as part of a connection fair of 21 agencies that provide services to veterans.

The conference continues Saturday with scheduled sessions on suicide prevention, faith and mental health medication, helping families recover from a spouse’s PTSD, adolescent support, mental health, suicide prevention, financial planning and family support, among other topics.

Event Director Brian Russell heads up Operation Honor, the military ministry at Faith Family Church.

“The goal is to educate veterans and families that they’re not alone,” Russell said.

Military branches have done a lot more including pre-deployment briefings for family members and military members, Russell said.

“There’s more today than there was, but there’s still not enough,” Russell said. “What we strive to do is get more awareness to the general public and in the families, and let them know they can get help too, and it’s OK to ask for help.”

“We want to start a conversation, get people connected, and say, ‘You know what, it’s OK to talk about these things,’” Russell added.

Event organizers expect about 500 people total to attend the two-day conference. Last year, they had 308 participants.

Attendees have the opportunity to learn how to recognize symptoms of PTSD, such as hyper-vigilance, depression or withdrawal, who to call and what agencies are available.

“Where we live, the odds are you know a veteran, the odds are you know a neighbor who served in the military,” Russell said.

During his opening remarks, Tick added that people who are invaders and aggressors in a country are those who develop traumatic stress and not those who are faced with defending their homeland.

He said there are therapies available for veterans, and the goal should be to heal their souls or mental disorders and moral wounds.

“When we just try suppress symptoms to restore normal functioning, it doesn’t work very well,” Tick said. “We struggle to maintain that functioning and we tragically use extraordinary amounts of pharmaceuticals in order to keep that function going. We turn our veterans and survivors into drug addicts dependent on those. Drugs can certainly help … reducing the suffering, but they don’t change the inner condition. They don’t make soul pain go away.”

He said among the things that are needed to help those with PTSD is a creative outlet such as artwork, poetry or playing music.

“Our younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are having an artistic Renaissance,” Tick said.

Allison Tojo, of Collinsville, works for Chestnut Health Systems, where she works in community mental health with people with severe mental illness.

She has background in anxiety disorders and helping people with PTSD interests her.

“I agree with … treating people as a whole,” Tojo said. “My training was focused on treating symptoms. Working in community mental health, I’ve developed the importance of understanding the whole person, not just symptoms of an illness.”

Angela Marvin, of Edwardsville, just completed her masters in social work, and hopes to work with veterans and veterans’ families.

“Veterans, regardless if people agree with the reasons they have fought, have served us,” Marvin said. “It’s up to us as a community as social creature, to give back to them and support them.”

Marvin said people should educate themselves about veterans’ issues.

“What are they facing, what are the statistics, is it as big of a problem as we think it is? What are some therapies, what treatments are available?” Marvin said. “What’s going on, how can we fix it?”

Contact reporter Joseph Bustos at jbustos@bnd.com or 618-239-2451. Follow him on Twitter: @JoeBReporter.

Sessions for the No Family Left Behind Conference resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday at Faith Family Church, located at 704 N. Green Mount Road in Shiloh. Sessions are scheduled to include suicide prevention, faith and mental health medication, helping families recover from a spouse’s PTSD and family support.

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