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Soldiers Project treats ‘invisible wounds of war’

Nonprofit group is hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser Oct. 8 in Roseville
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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They’re often called the “invisible wounds of war,” the emotional and mental struggles that follow a military member home from combat.

These wounds include post traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injury — issues that don’t just go away once a soldier returns to civilian life.

The Soldiers Project-Sacramento helps service members and families dealing with the trauma of war to reintegrate into society and stop the isolation.

The nonprofit organization is hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 8, at St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church in Roseville. On the menu: pancakes, link sausage, juice, milk and Starbucks coffee.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit The Soldiers Project, which provides free, unlimited psychological treatment for active-duty military, National Guard, reservists and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their family members and other loved ones are also eligible for treatment.

“We’ve got a huge demand,” said publicist Becci Angell. “There’s a big need for therapists so we’ve got to get the word out.”

Currently, the local branch has 48 therapists to cover eight counties — Placer, Sacramento, Nevada, Yolo, Yuba, El Dorado, San Joaquin and Stanislaus. These clinicians work pro-bono and so far this year have logged more than 500 hours of one-on-one therapy, serving about 100 clients.

“They’re giving their time because they feel passionate about the soldiers who are coming back and the emotional issues they’re dealing with,” Angell said.

Mike Hensley, 28, is one of those veterans. The Yuba County resident returned from Iraq in 2005 and was medically discharged from the army in 2006. Then he worked as a car salesman and water deliverer, and his marriage crumbled before he realized he had a traumatic brain injury.

“As a soldier, admitting something is wrong is incredibly hard,” Hensley said.

He went to group therapy through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs where he was lumped together with people who had been to Iraq but not seen combat like him.

“It’s a large hurdle to come back and no one has a clue what’s going on in your mind,” Hensley said.

In September 2010, he got involved with The Soldiers Project and went through therapy.

“Where I am now from where I was a year ago is a 100 percent turnaround,” he said.

The Soldiers Project-Sacramento recently opened an office in Roseville and is working on expanding its services by recruiting more licensed mental health professionals with expertise in post traumatic stress disorder.

The organization gets referrals from the Sacramento VA Medical Center at Mather, and as far away as Travis Air Force Base, said The Soldiers Project-Sacramento Clinical Director Carolyn Fink.

“It’s a momentous issue and the VA is doing the best they can, but they are inundated,” Fink said.

Some military personnel return from war to find that their homes have been foreclosed, or guards learn their civilian jobs are gone or their families falling apart. Some soldiers were raped or sexually assaulted while in combat.

As for Hensley, he is working toward a psychology degree and volunteering for The Soldiers Project.

“I want to help other veterans so they don’t have to be in the same situation I was in for so long,” he said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Pancake Breakfast for Veterans
When:
8-11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Where: St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church, 1001 Stone Canyon Dr. in Roseville
Cost: $5 adults, $2.50 children under 10
Info: Proceeds benefit The Soldiers Project-Sacramento. Call (877) 557-5888, email sacramento@thesoldiersproject.org or visit www.thesoldiersproject.org.