Mental health, focus on PTSD from the roundtable in New York

In 2016, Jered Meeker was driving his SUV when he collided with and killed a 13-year-old boy. Meeker, a longtime volunteer firefighter, was then fire chief of the Lake Shore Fire District in Greece. Meeker was not at fault. According to reports, the boy had run out in front of the vehicle, eager to visit a friend.

Last week the former fire chief spoke about his life after that day, how he slipped into depression. He spoke of feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness. He was plagued by thoughts of suicide. “He will eat you alive,” he said.

Meeker was one of many who came forward to share their personal stories of battling post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental illnesses.

The struggles are particularly acute for veterans, first responders and frontline health workers, said those who spoke on Dec. 21 with a panel of eight Assembly members at the Health Training Center. Ontario County Security at Hopewell.

The event was one of a series of rallies organized by Republicans in the State Assembly. The conference presented its package of legislative proposals to help veterans, first responders and frontline health workers.

“The government cannot fix all of this,” said Assembly Member Jake Ashby of Rensselaer County, sponsor of several of the bills and a senior minority member of the Assembly’s Veterans Committee. But legislation “can provide the resources to move in the right direction,” he said.

Manchester Assembly member Jeff Gallahan was working with Ashby to bring the roundtable to the Finger Lakes region.

The bundle of 11 related proposals includes Bill A. 3725 which would establish a Veterans Services Division – an independent state agency to ensure more permanent funding for veterans programs, as well as a cabinet post. of the executive office to advocate for veterans affairs. Also in the mix is ​​Bill A.3501 which would establish a peer-to-peer mental health support program modeled on the success of the Joseph P. Dwyer program for frontline healthcare workers, to provide confidential peer-to-peer assistance. to people in difficulty. suffering from depression, anxiety or PTSD.

Participants who shared personal stories included Jeremy Marshall, director of the Ontario County Veterans Services Agency, who retired from the Army and Marine Corps after serving in Iraq. and in Afghanistan. Jason Skinner, director of the Veterans Service Agency in Livingston County, also a veteran who served in Iraq, spoke about the mental health issues of veterans and the high rate of suicide.

The feeling of not fitting in after returning from war often leads veterans to find solace in a career in law enforcement and emergency services due to its similarity in structure and stress, Skinner said. At the same time, he added that working in these jobs carries the same mental health risks.

Assembly members discussed the underfunding of mental health services, which are insufficient to meet the needs of ex-combatants, their widows and children. Ashby said New York City has its own veterans service agency “and it’s very well funded.” For all of the state’s veterans, “we have to become a fully funded agency,” he said. He mentioned other states, like Connecticut, that have done it, and where “these programs have exploded”.

He said the effort in New York had bipartisan support. Assembly Member Didi Barrett of D-Dutchess / Columbia Counties, Chairman of the Assembly’s Veterans Affairs Committee, supports comparable legislation that calls for an independent state agency dedicated to veterans services .

Erin Corcoran is Vice President of Clinical Operations for Eagle Star Housing Inc., which provides emergency transitional housing for low-income and homeless veterans with multiple sites including those in Monroe Counties and Ontario . Corcoran said veteran homelessness was at its highest rate in 10 years. The pandemic has exacerbated what she described as a crisis. Some believe winter would drive the homeless to a shelter, but she said it didn’t, in part because of fears of the pandemic – so more veterans are living on the streets.

Lt. David Cirencione of the Ontario County Sheriff's Office speaks at an event Tuesday in Ontario County.

Lt. David Cirencione of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office spoke about burnout with law enforcement. He said too few people take the test to enter the field, many leave and there is immense pressure on those working. He added that mental health issues in the community made the situation worse, with agents repeatedly answering calls from the same people.

Ontario County District Attorney Jim Ritts addressed the need for additional mental health support specific to the needs of people who face each day helping others in crisis, and a greater need among young people. in crisis.

Dr Frank Bourke, executive director of the nonprofit Research and Recognition Project, spoke about a new drug-free treatment for people with PTSD. Bourke, whose research involved veterans from the Rochester and Albany areas, sees a coming PTSD pandemic. He said the new PTSD treatment protocol is a tool. Bouke seeks to train 250 advisers in the use of the method.

“It’s not a quick fix to save the world,” he said. “But we have something real.”

Bristol City Supervisor Bob Green shares his personal experience with mental health at an event on December 21 in Ontario County.

Bristol City Supervisor Bob Green, vice chair of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, who has had a long career in the Sheriff’s office and as an emergency responder, shared the challenges by his son after several rounds of combat. “He watched the Marines burnt in their Humvees, he saw the civilians being cut down by the insurgents. He wears this to this day, ”Green said.

“This is a much needed speech, a long overdue conversation,” Green said.

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