Persons suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder may experience higher levels of arousal than others. These levels of arousal may contribute to criminal behavior, particularly when coupled with substance abuse. In order to service hundreds of vets returning home to the Tampa Bay area, a support line has been established to council soldiers.

The Florida Veterans’ Care Coordination Program based out of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, has provided assistance for more than 500 vets. Men and women are counseled on issues that range from unemployment to substance abuse to PTSD. The toll-free line, 1.844.MYFLVET, is open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is bill currently moving through Legislature that would expand assistance to the entire state.

There are three veterans manning the phones at the Tampa call center, serving vets in Manatee, Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties. Hiring veterans was done with the intent of giving callers a person on the other end of the line who could relate to what they were experiencing. The Tampa-Bay area has one of the highest concentrations of returning veterans in the state.

The bill moving through both chambers is expected to be fully supported. If it passes, $2 million will be used to set up phone lines and hire counselors. Senator Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey, says, “We want Florida to be known as a state that fully supports those service members who have sacrificed for our freedoms.”

Staffers report that no two calls are ever alike. What they do have in common, however, are the issues that veterans are facing. Unemployment, food, rent, transitioning to civilian life, and PTSD. Vets calling in to the crisis line are facing debt, job loss, and emotional struggles. Reaching out to the person on the other end of the line is only the first step.

Vets who call the help line are not looking for a handout, but a hand up, says Jamie McPherson, an intervention specialist at the Tampa Bay crisis center. Though the work can be emotionally taxing, it is incredibly rewarding.

If you or someone you love has returned home from deployment and needs assistance, reach out to these caring vets. They are manning phones simply waiting for the chance to listen and offer words of support. No vet should have to struggle with emotional or financial issues. The least any of us can do for these men and women is to lend a listening ear and helping hand.

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