Free counseling service making a difference for veterans

Published: Sep. 6, 2017 at 4:12 PM EDT
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East Tennessee veterans and their families can receive free help coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and other behavioral health issues via the

in Knoxville.

The Military Services Center has served 140 veterans and their families with counseling help since opening in late 2016. Now, the nonprofit plans on expanding the housing it provides for veterans with ten new apartments available via special housing vouchers. This is in addition to the 24 apartments already available for veterans.

Marine veteran Zachary Piontkowski said that although he received some help from the VA with his PTSD, he's made the most progress in the past six months with counseling at the McNabb Military Services Center.

He said the VA tended to simply prescribe medication, while at the McNabb Center he found additional help with coping skills. Two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan left him with health challenges.

When asked the best part of the service at McNabb, Piontkowski explained, "That would be the one-on-one therapy sessions that we've gone through, and the biggest thing in addition to that was just that they allowed my wife to come too, so that we could do it together."

Piontkowski's wife, Christi, said she has been especially encouraged by their progress in communicating and coping together since they've started attending the sessions.

"I feel like we've made a ton of progress," she said. "The people we were when we first came here, compared to the people we are now, our communication is just so much different, and it's so much better."

The couple praised their therapist, John Chandler, for being so easy to talk with. Chandler credits his being a veteran with being able to relate to clients. He is one of two master level therapists with background in military service.

"We connect on a different level," said Chandler. He added of the shared experience with other veterans he meets, "We stood for our country, you know, we went overseas, we fought together....pretty powerful connection, and it makes therapy kinda easy."

Piontkowski said his increased understanding through therapy is helping him overcome the PTSD: "If you're really looking to understand how you think more because of your issues, it's a lot better to slow it down and understand those processes, so that in the future you can react a different way."

His wife, Christi, described how her sessions opened her eyes, "It helped me realize more of where he was coming from, what he was going through, because even though I was so close to it, I still was missing a lot."

Amber McMillan is the Military Services Clinical Director for Helen Ross McNabb Center, and she explained that this counseling service is at no cost to veterans or even their loved ones.

"It is free and they do not even have to be the military personnel," said McMillan. "It can be their family members. So that kind of stands out from other services."

McMillan explained that her therapists often see the need for help with PTSD, saying, "Luckily our therapists have been trained in a few different treatment modalities specific for PTSD treatment. They've went to some civilian training as well as veteran-specific training through the center for deployment psychology."

McMillan said sometimes veterans require a combination of VA-prescribed medications and therapy at the center, while other times therapy alone can help.

She also said they want to especially offer those additional services to family members of people who've served in the military.

"They're a different person, so when they come back, their spouse doesn't really know them anymore, they're not the same person they were when they left. The spouse sometimes struggles with dealing with the symptoms that the veteran's experiencing and not understanding how to handle that."

McMillan explained that the center offers both individual and couples or family counseling.

You can contact

for details.