Veterans and their families needing mental health care can now get it from fellow veterans at Metro East Counseling, which is now open in Swansea.
“We serve the whole community, but we have a special place in our hearts for veterans,” said Chad Welch, who started the private practice at the beginning of the year.
Out of five therapists on staff — three full-time and two part-time — three are veterans, including Welch, who spent four years in the Marine Corps. After taking some time away from the military, Welch said he was prompted to join the Army Reserves after Sept. 11, 2001. He currently serves as the command chief of the 932nd Air Wing at Scott Air Force Base.
“Our two therapists that aren’t veterans have good chunks of their caseload working with military and military families, and we draw a lot from Scott Air Force Base,” Welch said. “I think we offer a place to get some services that is outside of the military world, which can be very important for a lot of people.”
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According to Welch, his caseload is nearly 50 percent military clients who are seen for a range of reasons including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorders, depression and anxiety, in addition to the transition when one leaves the military.
“There’s a lot of adjustments to it as people leave the military. It’s a highly-structured environment and everything is taken care of — your medical insurance is taken care of, your family is taken care of — you kind of live in a bubble when you’re in the military, so we see when people transition out, there’s a pretty large adjustment that goes with that, so we assist with that as well,” Welch said.
Although veterans have access to health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Welch, the demand for services surpasses the VA’s ability to meet everyone’s needs.
“We draw a lot of people in that are accessing VA benefits but come up here because they like the private-practice setting,” Welch said. “We’re able to actually provide the individual time — one-on-one time — that I think is very difficult for the VA to do just simply because of the amount of people they have coming through on a regular basis.”
A lot of jargon is used with military life; It’s kind of a subculture of the country, and we’re able to kind of cut through some of that because we’re already on that playing field with them.
Chad Welch with Metro East Counseling
Having a counselor who is a veteran can help a fellow veteran feel more comfortable sharing the challenges they face, and they also have a better understanding of the military world, according to Welch.
“A lot of jargon is used with military life; It’s kind of a subculture of the country, and we’re able to kind of cut through some of that because we’re already on that playing field with them,” Welch said.
Another veteran on staff is Brad Wahlig, who served six years in the Air Force. He said he became a counselor after experiencing the loss of a close friend.
“I had a close knit group of friends, all of whom deployed, and I stayed back at the base for support here in the states. At least four of them came back with extreme issues with the readjustment process, and one of my friends ultimately died by suicide. That really was the catalyst for me to step in and help,” Wahlig said.
According to the National Veterans Foundation, about 20 veterans die by suicide every day.
“The rate of suicide is so high in veterans that something needs to be done, and I’d like to fill that role,” Wahlig said.
In addition to one-on-one, couples or family therapy, Metro East Counseling offers a free veteran support group the first Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. in their group room.
Information about upcoming sessions can be found on the U.S. Veterans Foundation Facebook page under the event listings.
For more information about Metro East Counseling located at 4509 N. Illinois St, Suite 5, in Swansea, visit mymetroeastcounseling.com.