Geist Vet-To-Vet chapter: ‘veterans healing veterans’

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The death-toll for U.S. troops in Afghanistan recently hit 2,000 this month.

When the soldiers that make it out alive come home from a tour of duty, they may wage another war:  one with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological issues.

There’s a group in Geist that wants to stand by the sides of Veterans, young and old, as they struggle with mental health issues.

Vet-To-Vet, an organization endorsed by the VA, is a counseling group for veterans that need help coping after serving the country.

“If we just get one (veteran) to walk through our door, then it’ll be worthwhile,” founder and facilitator John Smitha said.

Smitha is a Cold War veteran that participated in special operations in various countries, including East Germany and Libya. He started the group, which meets at both campuses of the Geist Christian Church, about three years ago. The number of veterans that meet weekly fluctuates, but Smitha and the facilitators are trying to pull younger veterans in.

“It’s (facilitating, healing and counseling) one of the most gratifying things I’ve done all my life,” he said.

Smitha describes the group as “veterans healing veterans.”

Veterans that participate in the process are taught how to cope with PTSD, which Smitha said is a lifelong battle akin to alcoholism. The disorder and other types of trauma can manifest in different ways, including survivor’s guilt.

Smitha is trying to spread the word about Vet-To-Vet so young soldiers coming home from today’s battlefields know they’re not alone and can avoid letting PTSD bottle up, unlike the number of Vietnam veterans that support the group.

Smitha said today’s veterans are coming back with 17 symptoms of the disorder, a much higher count than those that served in the Vietnam War.

“It takes a big man to ask for help,” he said.

According to Smitha, both male and female soldiers participate with the group, but other commitments often disrupt the frequency in which they show up.

“We’re not just a bunch of old dudes sitting around telling war stories,” Smitha said.

Confidentiality is key for the Vet-To-Vet group, and even though the veterans meet at Geist Christian Church, religion is not a focal point. Nor is today’s political climate.

Smitha stresses that even though the conflict he served in was different than that of other veterans, they can all relate to each other because they all experienced the same aspects of war:  taken lives and seen friends die.

If you’d like to reach out to Vet-To-Vet, contact Smitha at jonsmitha@comcast.net.

Vet-To-Vet local meetings

Mondays

Geist Christian Church – North Campus (Fishers)

Promise Road and 126th Street

6 to 7 p.m.

Tuesdays

Geist Christian Church – South Campus (Indianapolis)

Mud Creek and 86th Street

5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Thursdays

Fort Benjamin Harrison Veterans’ Center (Indianapolis)

6 to 7 p.m.

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