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Mental health of veterans topic of NAMI meeting

A mental health program for U.S. military veterans includes service dogs

ALBANY — Support for U.S. military veterans and their families will be the focus of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Night meeting Tuesday evening.

Jere Brands with the Albany NAMI program said that Larry Barfield, of Leesburg, will introduce his service dog, Camo, who joined his family in June, at the 6:30 p.m. meeting at Phoebe Northwest on Dawson Road. Anthony Margiotta, LMSW, caregiver support coordinator for the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, will present updates on services from the Veterans Administration.

Questions from the audience will be taken after the presentations, Brand said.

Service dogs assisting individuals with post-traumatic stress are now available through private non-profit initiatives such as K9s for Warriors, Brand said. Dogs are selected through a rigorous screening process and trained to respond to symptoms from the veteran.

The individual who will partner with the dog then is trained with the dog in an intensive three-week residential program. The service dog is provided free of cost, but the owner is responsible for the cost of transportation to and from the facility.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany, along with the Deerfield Windsor Cross County Team and Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, sponsored a Barney’s Run for K9s for Warriors last year and raised enough money to cover the cost of Camo, Larry Barfield’s service dog. The same groups are sponsoring another 5-kilometer run in January to raise funds to sponsor a service dog for a local veteran.

Brand said that additional services are now available from the Veterans Administration for seriously injured post-9/11 veterans and their family caregivers. VA is now accepting applications for these services. Veterans eligible for this program are those who sustained a serious injury – including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder – incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, on or after September 11, 2001.

Services for this group of veterans and their family caregivers include home-based primary care, home health aides. mental health services, counseling, caregiver training, and a monthly stipend for the caregiver.

For more information on these services, call the toll-free Caregiver Support Line: 855-260-3274 or view the VA website: www.caregiver.va.gov

The Albany affiliate of NAMI presents NAMI Nights for the community on the second Tuesday evening of each month. These evenings are open to the public. Following the 6:30 p.m. presentations Tuesday, those who wish may remain for one of two separate support groups: one for adults in recovery, and one for family members.

For more information about NAMI or mental illness, go to www.nami.org. For information about NAMI Albany, search for “NAMI Albany GA Home” or call (229) 343-8791.