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Va medical center programs help vets survive after a war

"You go from not living to living."

"You go from not living to living."

April 06, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Josh Hopper has done two tours in Iraq in the last three years.

When he came home the second time, the 23-year-old Marine was told by his superiors to enroll in a treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Beaufort, S.C., native ended up at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center in February, and the hospital's treatment program has helped save his life, he said.

"You go from not living to living," said Hopper, who is scheduled to graduate from the program April 30.

The medical center's treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder was one of several highlighted Saturday during an open house held for veterans and their families to learn about resources the hospital provides.

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"It's almost expected that when someone goes to war they're going to come back with some kind of post-traumatic stress," said Katherine E. Smits, who manages the hospital's Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom program.

About 1,500 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are enrolled at the medical center, Smits said.

In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, the medical center treats a lot of soldiers for traumatic brain injury, which Smits said has become "the signature injury of this war (against terrorism)."

Saturday's event, from 2 to 6 p.m., allowed veterans and others to tour the hospital and talk to representatives about services and benefits there.

The open house was held in conjunction with similar events at VA hospitals across the country, said Sanford Garfunkel, director of the VA Capitol Health Care Network, VISN 5.

"One of our concerns is that people are discharged from the military and aren't really aware of the VA's services," Garfunkel said.

For instance, the VA provides complete online medical records for all of its patients across the country, Garfunkel said. This can come in handy for veterans like Hopper, who likely won't stay in Martinsburg after he leaves the medical center.

"Our veterans can go to any doctor, anywhere and that doctor can pull up full medical records online. We're a nationwide leader in this respect," Garfunkel said.

The open house was the first of its kind at the Martinsburg VA but will be repeated yearly from now own, Smits said.

The event also featured live music and flight demonstrations from a Black Hawk helicopter, and included children's activities such as a rock climbing wall.

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