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Chautauqua County to establish peer counseling program for veterans

JAMESTOWN - A $185,000 state grant will allow Chautauqua County to establish a local branch of the Pfc. Joseph Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Veterans Support Program, officials said Monday.

Area veterans interested in the program can contact the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency to learn more and sign up. The Veterans Service’s Jamestown office is located at 610 W. Third St. and can be reached 661-8255. The Dunkirk office is located in the VA Clinic, 166 East Fourth St. and can be reached at 268-6030.

The Dwyer Program brings veterans together in a secure, anonymous setting in order to help one another cope with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.

The program is open to all veterans, regardless of branch of service, deployment record or official medical designation.

“When veterans return from combat, they often face challenges as they reintegrate into civilian life,” said state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, who secured the grant. “Personal dialogue with those who have experienced the same struggles has been shown as a highly-effective tool to help those suffering from PTSD and other stress disorders find relief.”

The program is named in memory of Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a U.S. Army combat medic with service in Iraq who died in 2008 at the age of 31 from a reported accidental overdose. For years, Dwyer had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

First established in Suffolk County from grants in the 2012-2013 state budget, the Dwyer program has already been set up to assist veterans in Jefferson, Monroe, Nassau, Onondaga, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, and Westchester counties.

In October, officials announced the program will also expand into Niagara County.

Local officials applauded Monday’s announcement.

“It is hard for a civilian to fully understand the horrors that some veterans experience in combat situations,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell. “A veteran who has faced those situations can often relate better to another veteran who has also faced those horrific situations.”