The Buffalo Vet Center celebrated a milestone last month -- 25 years of helping returning soldiers adjust to life after war. But these days, the Vet Center has had to adjust, too.
The center now counsels military families confused about why a spouse or parent returning from Iraq is so withdrawn. It is dealing with more mature soldiers from Reserve units who are trying to readjust to home life with thoughts of being deployed again.
And it is reaching out more to break old stigmas among soldiers that counseling is for the weak.
"A very small percentage seek help, but there's always going to be readjustment challenges for anyone coming back," said Houston Crum, a clinical social worker and team leader at the center. "We're hoping that the active outreach will increase that percentage who come for help."
The center, at 564 Franklin St., near North Street, in Allentown, has a client list of 175 veterans -- about a 20 percent increase since the United States went into Afghanistan and Iraq, Crum said.
But not all are young soldiers returning from Baghdad. Some are veterans of previous wars disturbed by the reports and images coming from Iraq.
"Things I thought I buried pretty good in my head were resurfacing," said a local Vietnam veteran, who asked to remain anonymous.
Now 56 and the father of four, he has a son who recently returned home from Iraq, a son-in-law there now and another son who recently joined the military.
Thinking about them takes him back to Vietnam. It triggers memories of that day in 1969, when he was transporting villagers. His Army unit came under mortar attack, and he was wounded.
"Why do they (have) to go through this stuff?" he wondered.
Other veterans and returning soldiers are seeking help with:
Emotional issues. Depression, moodiness, isolation and inability to sleep are just some of the symptoms clients encounter upon returning home. Some use drugs and alcohol to cope, Crum said.
Family problems. Some families are trying to adjust to the "take-charge" approach soldiers bring home from Iraq. Other veterans are withdrawing from family life, Crum said.
Readjusting to daily life. Not only do local reservists deal with thoughts of being redeployed, but they're still required to train one weekend a month. Just being with their Reserve unit again might bring back painful war experiences, Crum said.
The Buffalo Vet Center has one part-time and three full-time counselors to meet with clients. It also offers group sessions.
"The group sessions really help," the man said. "You get a half dozen guys in there, and you can talk and talk and talk. They're the only ones you can really talk to."
The Buffalo Vet Center can be reached at 882-0505.