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Salisbury VA hiring veterans as mental health specialists

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TWC News: Salisbury VA hiring veterans as mental health specialists
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SALISBURY -- The Salisbury VA is partnering experienced veterans with those just returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to assist in their mental health recovery.

The medical center hired 10 veterans through the Peer Support Specialist Program, a nationwide push to make access to mental health care easier for service members.

Gulf War veteran Ted Thomas knew first-hand the struggles of transitioning back into civilian life.

"I had a lot of mood changes, and, as my wife will tell you, [I was] easily irritated, lost jobs, suffered quite a bit with mental health and substance abuse,” Thomas said.

Now Thomas is a specialist helping younger veterans make the transition.

"A lot of times when you come back, you're a totally different person than when you went in,” veteran Sherrie Cooks said.

"You might get upset because the grass is cut from right to left, now it's cut from left to right,” veteran Carlton Chisom said.

Peer support specialists have been through the difficulties before, and now they're sharing their stories with other veterans, helping them get the mental health care they need.

"They can help us provide better care, and that's why I think it's so exciting that we've had more peer support specialists come on board here in Salisbury,” said psychologist Elizabeth Howarth

There are more than 800 specialists at VAs nationwide, as part of a push to increase veterans' access to mental health care.

"There can be stigma related to mental health issues; however, I'm really optimistic and hopeful about the direction we're heading with that,” Howarth said.

"I can help another veteran not have to go through what I did...and enjoy the life that they fought so hard to get,” Thomas said.

More than 1.3 million veterans received specialized mental health care treatment through the VA last year.

For more information about the VA's mental healthcare services visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov.

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