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Encouraging words for Saranac Lake veterans' center

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The Department of Defense is focusing more attention on post traumatic stress disorder, estimating that over 300,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Thousands of them are "civilian soldiers" -- members of the Army Reserves and National Guard.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says combat vets are more likely to commit crimes or suffer effects of psychological trauma. Military officials are actively looking for new ways to help them heal and rejoin civilian life.A group in Saranac Lake hopes Patriot Hills, a new vets' center proposed for the village, will be a good fit. This week, they got some encouraging words from the Army national Guard's medical commander. Martha Foley has more.

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A community group in Saranac Lake is moving forward with a plan to develop a healing and reintegration center for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's still unclear exactly what kind of services and therapy might be offered. But Patriot Hills of Saranac Lake held its first major event in the village this week and got encouraging news.

Major General Robert John Kasulke, a surgeon in Watertown, is also a medical reserve commander for the Army National Guard. He told organizers that start-up funding shouldn't be hard to find, describing the necessary $17 to $20 million as merely a drop in the massive $850 billion Department of Defense budget. "These types of programs are mechanically easy to do--they don't involve medications and are super-supportive," Kasulke said. "I think there is a good chance that they could get it. This amount of dollars, in terms of the defense budget, isn't a lot of money."

Clinicians, military brass and project proponents met at the Trudeau Institute in the village yesterday. Like many other Americans, they're hoping to better understand what used to be known as shell shock and is now widely acknowledged as post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says combat vets are more likely to commit crimes or display the effects of severe psychological trauma. Roughly 20% of the homeless in the U.S. are combat veterans. 

And Kasulke notes that the Pentagon is actively searching for ways to help. "We are looking far and wide for programs that will add in a positive sense to our treatment modalities," Kasulke said. "Resiliency is a real big issue now because we think it's a great way to prepare people for their deployment and when they get back, it's a way to help them get better."

The DOD estimates that over 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder. Many are reservists or National Guard members. Kasulke said deployment is particularly hard on them.  After active duty, they're thrown directly back into civilian life, often in hometowns where treatment can be hard to find. He also said non-drug induced healing is something that is gaining a fan-base in Washington--and Patriot Hills could be a good fit.

The project's executive director, Susan Waters, said organizers are eager to hear about defense department funding. "Currently we don't have a penny except what we have sold in t-shirts," Waters said. "Our funding request is into the Department of Defense and we will try to start to raise some private funds."

Waters said no site or overarching clinical paradigm has been chosen for the project--it's still a work in progress. "We are still developing our concept of just where we will do all of the different parts of our programs. It might be a constellation of sites; it might be one primary site. All of these things are still under construction," she said. "We wanted to first focus on the programs and see what kind of care and services to provide and then decide where best to place those."

Franklin County officials hope the former Camp Gabriels will be included in the mix if the project receives funding. Officials expect a decision on the funding request in October.

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