In Somerville, marking Veterans Day by focusing on veterans

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

At the YMCA in Somerville on Veterans Day, the subject was, appropriately enough, veterans themselves — the problems they face and what is being done to address their particular needs.

Among those on hand was Korea veteran John Perrucci, who comes from a family with a long history of service before self. He had three brothers who served during World War II and a granddaughter in a war zone now, he said.

Perrucci feels a special indebtedness to the current generation, insisting that in one big way those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have it worse that their forebears.

“I have a granddaughter, she was over there twice,” he said. “A couple years go by and [you’re] back again. The other way, you were there and you came home. It was over.”

Those on hand said they brought a mobile veterans center and outreach specialists to Somerville on Monday to help screen and treat vets for mental health services.

 “They’re there to evaluate that and there’s also an opportunity if they do have an excessive need they can remote in a psychiatrist to talk to a veteran,” said Kate Russo, the branch executive director at the YMCA of Somerville and Bridgewater.

“The primary focus that we see with veterans, especially those who served in a combat role, is PTSD,” said Scott Dadaian, outreach program specialist at the Secaucus Vet Center with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “There’s many different ways that it expresses itself, you see anxiety, you see anger.”

For generations, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t diagnosed as such, instead referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.” The VA has since made mental health a priority, but PTSD continues to plague service members. Thirty percent of active duty and reserve military personnel have a mental health condition requiring treatment. Less than 50% of returning vets in need, receive it.

“You know, one in 26 veterans are committing suicide a day, so that’s something we’re willing to be able to support and help and be accessible for,” Russo said.

It’s not just PTSD. Experts here say there’s dire need to treat depression, substance-use disorder and the stigma that comes with asking for help as a toughened military member.

Accessibility to care is also a problem. The state has just two VA hospitals located in Lyons and East Orange. There are also 10 community based outpatient clinics scattered throughout the state.

The mobile unit Monday served as a resource center, so veterans in the area know they can come and learn more about the benefits available to them.

“Every pocket and every community has a little different need,” said Benjamin Green of the YMCA branch in Hillsborough. “One of the needs that community members have been asking for is access to things like this even if it’s just from an educational perspective.”