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Veteran-to-veteran counseling can save lives

Joesph Dwyer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone

Joesph Dwyer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone join with State Sen. John Brooks and local officials and multiple veterans' organizations on Friday to urge the State Legislature to restore funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

On average in the United States, 22 military veterans kill themselves every day. That means more of our veterans take their own lives each year than have been killed in the entire wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. A peer-to-peer counseling program pioneered in Suffolk County and later implemented across New York could be a crucial way to get veterans the assistance they need.

But it must be funded.

Begun in 2012, the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project is an initiative that lets veterans get counseling anonymously in small-group settings to manage post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual trauma, addiction and other issues resulting from military service. Experts say that the military experience is so unique and leaves veterans so guarded that it often takes another veteran to provide help. The Dwyer program became so effective that, with the strong support of Rep. Lee Zeldin, then a state senator, it spread across the state. It is now offered in 22 counties and has helped more than 10,000 veterans.

Keeping the Dwyer program funded is a constant battle. In the past, State Senate Republicans and leader John Flanagan kept the money flowing. This year, with the Senate in Democratic hands,
Zeldin credits Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Sen. John Brooks, chair of the veterans committee, with forcing the money into the budget.

Now Zeldin wants to replicate the program nationwide. He’s introduced a bill with the bipartisan support of Long Island representatives that should quickly turn into unanimous support in Congress. The Dwyer program is a way to get veterans the care they need and were promised.  — The editorial board