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Women veterans welcome at center

November 15, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Like her fellow counselors, Cindy Hughes has been there.

An Army veteran, Hughes was in the combat theater in the Persian Gulf from 1990 to 1991. Currently a social worker at the Vet Center - which provides re-adjustment counseling to veterans, specifically for post-traumatic stress disorder - Hughes was on hand as the center held an open house Thursday afternoon for women veterans in the four-state region.

Although the center currently counsels a few women, most of its clients are men who served in Vietnam, according to Hughes and fellow counselor and Vietnam veteran Ronald Bell.

Vet Center officials organized the open house to let women know their military duty was important too, and to make them aware of available counseling services, Hughes said.

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Combat or combat theater veterans from World War II to more recent conflicts like those in Somalia and Bosnia are eligible for Vet Center counseling. All of the center's counselors were involved in combat.

"We turn no veterans away," Hughes said.

Those who do not meet eligibility requirements are allowed five counseling sessions, but are then referred to another agency. Those who are eligible can receive counseling as long as they need it, although most finish in about a year, Bell said.

Many Vietnam veterans had readjustment problems when they came home, in part because a lot of U.S. residents were hostile toward them, Bell said.

Some had problems immediately. Others are just now feeling the effects, now that their children are grown, they've paid for their home and achieved other goals, Bell said.

"For a lot of the people that we work with, they were probably more comfortable in Vietnam than in today's society," Bell said. "The person is a lot more comfortable when the stress is high. Our job is to put those people back to their own self-reliance."

Common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include troubled sleep patterns, sleep loss, nightmares, difficulty managing anger, troubled interpersonal relationships, extreme vigilance, being easily startled and panic attacks. Some veterans also have substance abuse problems.

Women veterans are not immune to re-adjustment problems, although Hughes said many women veterans who seek treatment suffered some form of sexual trauma while in the military. Sexual trauma victims are treated at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Martinsburg.

More than 900 women veterans are registered in the four-state region with Veterans Affairs, including women in the Eastern Panhandle, Hagerstown, Waynesboro, Pa., and other areas. Veterans from those areas are eligible to receive treatment at the Vet Center.

Since the Vet Center opened in 1985, more than 6,000 veterans have used its services.

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