When he returned from combat in Afghanistan at the end of the last decade, former Army Sgt. Kyle White knew something was off. He was angry and found himself self-medicating.
White received the Medal of Honor in 2014 for trying to save the lives of his fellow troops, despite his own wounds and while enduring enemy fire, after they were cut off from the rest of their patrol during a 2007 ambush.
He sought help before leaving active duty in 2011 after friends and family urged him to do so, but taking action was the toughest part. There was the stigma that came from those in his unit, but then, a realization: the military was not forever.
“To me, it made no sense at all,” White said. “When I had that kind of realization, it was like, ‘Listen, not only do I need to do this for myself, but I owe it to those around me to be better.’ “
White shared his struggle during a brief grand opening ceremony at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at The Up Center in Virginia Beach Tuesday. The clinic offers outpatient mental health services to post-9/11 veterans as well as military families, regardless of discharge status, combat experience or length of service.
The first clinics opened in 2016. The Virginia Beach location is one of 14 nationally with more planned. There are also locations in Washington and Fayetteville, N.C. White serves as an ambassador for the network of clinics.
After almost two decades of war, nearly three million troops have served in a combat zone, said Virginia Beach clinic outreach director Justin Engle, a retired Navy corpsman. As many as 40 percent return home with mental health issues.
“That’s what we’re trying to help,” Engle said.
The Virginia Beach location expects to serve more than 500 clients in its first year, said clinic director Dr. Iman Williams Christians. In addition to on-site services including case management and childcare, the clinic offers transportation and treatment via telemedicine. Same day service for those in crisis is also available.
Transitional stress, depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and couples therapy have been the biggest needs so far, Williams Christians said.
Hampton Roads was picked not only because the region boasts each service branch but also because of its high concentration of veterans. Access to services, with the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center located on the Peninsula, was also identified as a need. The Hampton VA sends referrals to the clinic, Williams Christians said.
“We are filling the gap,” she said.
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