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Champlain Valley Family Center holding veteran barbecue

Press-Republican - 5/17/2024

May 17—PLATTSBURGH — The North Country is doing its part to celebrate and include veterans of all ages in activities this weekend.

In addition to the first North Country Honor Flights of the season departing for Washington D.C. and taking 30 veterans to see their war memorial monuments Saturday morning, Champlain Valley Family Center in Plattsburgh is hosting a "military and veteran appreciation" barbecue later in the day from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at their facility at 20 Ampersand Drive.

There will be food, a bounce house for children, games and multiple community agencies tabling the event.

CVFC Clinic Director Jake Coulombe said the event will serve as a family-friendly gathering place for veterans, active military members and their families to attend, meet and learn about all the services the center can offer them if they need it.

"Maybe break down some of the barriers and stigma associated with the military and veteran culture of asking for help, which is particularly true for behavioral health," he said.

This will be the first time CVFC has held such an event.

Coulombe said having it in May was a "no brainer" as it coincided with both Mental Health Awareness Month and National Military Appreciation Month.

FEDERAL GRANT FUNDING

He said this initiative was made possible after they received a federal grant last September for the expansion of certified community behavioral health clinics. He said one of the core services that the grant emphasizes on is expanding services to the members of the armed forces and veterans.

Because of that grant, they started looking into data from their previously formed Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee and realized there were more veterans in the community than inside their system.

"We started asking the question 'why?'" Coulombe said.

"If mental health and substance use disorders do not discriminate, and may even be more prevalent in that population and with all the challenges that they face, what can we do better to get them to seek the behavioral health services that may improve their lives?"

Coulombe, who is not a veteran himself, said he established a Veteran's Advisory Panel a few months ago that consisted of staff members who are veterans and community members to meet and discuss the potential answers to his questions.

He said the barbecue being held Saturday was the first proposal to come out of the panel.

"This came to fruition pretty quick."

While veterans of all ages are welcome to attend, Coulombe said there is an emphasis to get younger ones, who have likely seen combat, involved.

He said he learned through the panel that when they get out of the military, after being in since they were 18 or 19 years old, they're more likely to need guidance on managing daily life skills and gaining access to available resources.

He said they, specifically, can benefit from an event like this.

"We know there's a lot of PTSD, we know there's a lot of substance use," Coulombe said.

"I think the barrier is, what they told me, is asking for help is very difficult."

The awarded grant, which they will have for four years, will allow Coulombe to treat more veterans without finances being a barrier as well.

"We never turn anybody away regardless of their ability to pay, we treat everybody and we never turn anybody into collections," he said.

"We would never turn anybody away regardless, we just won't lose a ton of money by serving this population with these grant funds."

Coulombe said they don't have another event planned this year yet, but the next items on the panel's agenda will be raising awareness about suicide prevention and developing a staffing pattern that is more in line with the community.

This will mean an emphasis on hiring more veterans so CVFC can offer peer-to-peer veteran services, which are more personal.

"There's something very refreshing that they can come in and talk to another veteran that already knows what the situation and their experiences are without having to detail it out to somebody."

Email: cnewton@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: CarlySNewton

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