VETERANS’ LIVES MATTER: First county Veterans Conference held at HNA Palisades

BY KATHY KAHN 

Dr. David Jacobsen, Executive Director of BRiDGES, and Vet-to-Vet volunteer Chester Edwards

BRiDGES, Rockland County Veteran Services Agency and the Department of Mental Health sponsored the county’s inaugural Veterans’ Conference at the HNA Palisades Center on June 13.

Over 100 veterans attended the all-day conference and found a bevy of programs designed to inform, encourage and empower them. Returning to civilian life after combat duty is often a difficult transition to make, particularly those who have done several tours in the Middle East since Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched in 2003.

Twenty-two organizations took part in all-day conference—Veterans Alternative to Incarceration Program, Play for Your Freedom, NAMI Home Front, Paws for a Cause, Veterans Angels, Hospice for Veterans (with a presentation by Hospice of Orange & Sullivan Counties) and many others—giving veterans and their families the opportunity to learn how many programs are out there. Whether it was finding peer-to-peer support, housing, returning to college under the GI Bill and transition skills learned in the military to civilian life, the conference covered as many topics as time allowed, giving attendees the opportunity to gather information—and hopefully, to reach out for support if they need it.

Dennis Pichardo of Veterans’ Angels talks to Paws for a Cause members about training service dogs for veterans

PharmaCann, a medical marijuana grower licensed by New York State, spoke to doctors and veterans about the use of cannabis to help with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and as an alternative to opiod use for chronic pain. Up2Us Sports told veterans about its sports coaching programs. There was information on the Major League Baseball Apprentice Program, formed by Sports Video Group’s Veterans in Production.

Animals also play an important part in the recovery process for those returning from combat: Paws for a Cause trains service dogs for physically and emotionally disabled veterans. Full Circle Equine Centered Activities offers therapeutic horsemanship programs in both Rockland and Orange counties.  The Squirrelwood Equine Sanctuary, home to several abused and neglected animals, offers programs designed to help vets learn healthy coping skills.

The conference, dedicated to the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer “Finding Your Next Mission and Purpose,” was named for the Army combat medic who enlisted after the September 11 attacks and passed away in 2008, a victim of the demons that haunted him after he returned from Iraq. Dwyer’s family has worked to help other veterans, particularly those returning service members who suffer from TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD. The Dwyer program is funded through a grant from the Rockland County Department of Mental Health (RCDMH) and is part of a statewide effort funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH).  BRiDGES provides all operational and administrative support to run the program, including outreach and advertising.

“We’re excited by the turnout,” said Dr. David Jacobsen, executive director of BRiDGES (formerly Rockland Independent Living), “and hope we will see even more veterans attending next year.”

To learn more about the many services offered for veterans, visit BRiDGES at www.bridgesrc.org and click on “programs and services” for the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program.