Soldiers Project Aims To Heal War's Mental Scars The Soldiers Project, founded by clinical psychiatrist Judith Broder, provides free counseling not only to service members returning from war — but to their families as well. The private service also offers a way for troops to get help if they're reluctant to seek it within the military system.
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Soldiers Project Aims To Heal War's Mental Scars

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Soldiers Project Aims To Heal War's Mental Scars

Soldiers Project Aims To Heal War's Mental Scars

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As we noted in our interview with Tammy Duckworth, we've been examining the impact of war on military families this month. The Soldiers Project provides free counseling to not only service members returning from war but their families. The woman who founded this organization was recognized earlier this month with the Purpose Prize, which honors extraordinary men and women over 60 who work for social change.

Gloria Hillard reports.

GLORIA HILLARD: The early morning fog has lifted on this Santa Monica beach, revealing thousands of wooden crosses in the sand. Someone is playing a flute next to an American flag flying at half-staff.

Sixty-nine-year-old Judith Broder bends down next to one cross and attaches the name of a soldier killed in Iraq. The first time she saw the makeshift memorial, known as Arlington West, was four years ago.

Dr. JUDITH BRODER (Soldiers Project): I didn't know exactly what it was, but I did know that it brought tears to my eyes.

HILLARD: Around that time, Broder saw a play in Los Angeles called "Sand Storm: Stories from the Front." Written by a Marine, it featured monologues of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Soundbite of play, "Sand Storm: Stories from the Front")

Unidentified Man: He kept begging me to - he kept begging to die, and I smiled, knowing he'd die soon enough. But he suffered in the meantime.

Dr. BRODER: The most horrifying aspect of it was the sense that I got that these were really just ordinary, everyday guys, and they had seen things and done things that just shattered their whole sense of themselves, and that they would all need help.

HILLARD: That's when Broder, a clinical psychiatrist, put her retirement plans on hold and founded the Soldiers Project. Today, there are more than 200 licensed therapists nationwide all volunteers who have received specialized training in everything from combat-related traumas to military culture.

Clinical psychologist Barbara Schochet is now assistant director of the organization.

Dr. BARBARA SCHOCHET (Soldiers Project): We have seen clients with combat trauma or other post-deployment issues - sometimes we even see them while they're deployed and they're home for their R and R, we'll see them a few times in one week if - often the wife will call in and say, I think my husband and I better come in. So we'll work with their needs.

Ms. ROSSANA CAMBRON: It's so much emotional pain. As a parent, you almost have your own PTSD to deal with.

HILLARD: Rossana Cambron says it's not something you're ever prepared for children coming home from war. The Southern California mother of four sought help from the Soldiers Project when her son returned from his first deployment to Iraq. He's now on his second tour.

Ms. CAMBRON: He had flashbacks, he had nightmares, he had the drinking you know, the heavy drinking to try to fall asleep. And many of the things that they told me on how to react, I did. I can't tell you how thankful I was to have that information.

HILLARD: Both the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs have PTSD and mental health programs for service members. Pat Alviso of the anti-war organization Military Families Speak Out, says the Soldiers Project helps those in the military who may be reluctant to seek help within the system.

Ms. PAT ALVISO (Military Families Speak Out): One of the things that we've noticed is that some of the men and women that are in the military still serving are just really unsure whether or not if they ask for help, whether it's going to be on their records. They're afraid of that stigma.

HILLARD: Twenty-six-year-old Dana Rene Varab is a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard.

Sergeant DANA RENE VARAB (Army National Guard): I will say that if I didn't do that, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now talking to you

HILLARD: At the age of 19, she was deployed to Iraq. The experiences of the war, especially the sounds, followed her home. One day a car backfired on the freeway.

Sgt. VARAB: I literally had a flashback and I almost hit a median, because that backfire reminded me I was getting mortared or something was happening behind me. As far as the, you know, the combat trauma, it's definitely there, but it's being dealt with.

HILLARD: When I share Dana's story with Judith Broder, she shifts her gaze and looks out at the war memorial on the sand.

Ms. BRODER: War leaves a scar that takes a long, long time to recover from. I would say it this way: The need is going to be there for a long, long, long time.

HILLARD: For NPR News, Im Gloria Hillard.

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