Center offers trauma aid options to veterans

Varied resources are available for military veterans covering physical, mental and emotional trauma.

But as Lisa Cullen of Altoona’s Center for Independent Living points out, when it comes to something as serious as traumatic brain injury, not everyone is comfortable going to a

Veterans Affairs hospital for attention.

“They might have other issues that they might get other help working through,” she said.

“Sometimes rehabilitation facilities don’t understand why a

veteran is acting the way they are.”

As the center’s brain injury outreach project coordinator, Cullen said grant funding has allowed her to develop programs already, but after being contacted by local veteran Charles Gibbons, she said she decided they could be doing more.

“He knows what it’s like coming back from the military and trying to come back into the community,” Cullen said.

Gibbons, who served as a Marine between 1981 and 1985 while stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., said he had thought about starting the group for some time.

But after the Department of Defense announced in June they would be closing Johnstown’s Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, he knew he had to act.

“There’s nothing around here to help them out,” he said.

A center press release stated that because the neurorehabilitation site wasn’t treating patients, no patient care was affected.

“[The center] handled a small number of patients and incurred high costs compared to other facilities. As the contract … expired and costs were measured, including those for a necessary information technology upgrade at each site, the DOD decided that other existing facilities could provide this care for service members.”

Cullen said the group will be for veterans suffering from brain injuries, as well as for family members and friends. She stressed that the center isn’t trying to undermine efforts at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center, but simply trying to give people another option.

“Some veterans are very receptive with going back to the VA, and some veterans aren’t,” she said.

Gibbons said all are welcome to join the group, whether they want to participate themselves or serve as peer mentors.

“Some, whether they have a disability or not, they just want to be there,” Cullen said, to help their brothers in arms in any way they can.

Gibbons said with government funds and services being cut back, it’s up to others to step up and make sure people are getting the treatment and support they need.

He wants the group to be able to meet monthly, with other fun activities planned in between – because, he added, if it’s “all work and no fun. … That’s no good.”

Gibbons said he’s looking to have guest speakers available to discuss what resources and information veterans have available to them, and to create a place where people feel comfortable sharing their own experiences.

“It’ll be a boys’ club, a women’s club … a vet’s club, I guess you could say,” he said.

Anyone looking for more information can contact the Center for Independent Living at 949-1905, or 800-237-9009.