The Syracuse VA Medical Center is about to start-up another series of classes for families of veterans struggling with mental illness. This marks the 11th year the VA has partnered with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, or NAMI.
Local recovery coordinator at the VA Ann Canastra says the 12-week program is aimed at families for a reason.
"It's really for us to teach family members about mental health, mental illness, the illness process, and then about recovery. In recovery, that means everything from handling a crisis when days are very hard, but also things like simple communication and military culture."
Canastra equates the time and patience required to aid these veterans to that of caring for an elderly family member. Although many of these veterans are young, she says, they still require the same kind of support and the same availability of resources.
"You have these young family members coming in where maybe their friends are working full-time but these veterans can't work full-time, and they need a spouse, partner, parent or someone to take help care of them. That's who this class is for."
One of the most significant obstacles for veterans and their families to overcome is what Canastra calls the “new normal,” or adjusting to their post-service lives. She says the first step families must take before jumping this hurdle is to learn self-care.
"Because you really can't do a good job of caring for other people unless you take care of yourself. So we talk about his new normal, and we teach family members about the importance of 'healthy selfishenss.' And it's not a selfishness where you're going to neglect anyone else; rather, where you say 'I'm worthy of being healthy also,' and this is how I'm going to do it."
This year’s family-to-family class series will begin Wednesday, September 19th, from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm. Classes meet every Wednesday until December 12th at the Syracuse VA Medical Center on 800 Irving Avenue. More information on enrollment is available by emailing Ann.Canastra@va.gov.