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Local nonprofit adds one-on-one counseling to help veterans, active-duty members coming back from Afghanistan

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Posted at 5:29 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 18:25:30-04

RUSKIN, Fla. — According to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration, around 30 percent of active duty and reserve service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition requiring treatment.

Less than 50 percent of veterans in need receive treatment and around 22 veterans die by suicide every day.

"It’s very difficult,” said Irene Burkett, a licensed mental health counselor, and Iraq war veteran.

Mental health officials believe those numbers will go up as more and more troops return from Afghanistan.

Even though places like the VA hospital offer mental health treatment, counselors, and have a crisis line, many veterans and active-duty members shy away from governmental help.

“I think sometimes they’re afraid to go get help because they’re afraid it’s going to go into their record and cost them their career, even though it’s not supposed to,” said Kelly Kowal.

Kowal opened My Warrior’s Place back in 2012 after her son was killed while serving in Afghanistan.

“It gave me purpose,” she said. “I saw what his death did to implode my family, but also how it devastated his brothers and sisters who served with him.”

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My Warrior's Place is on a small patch of land in Ruskin along the Little Manatee River. It’s a retreat for veterans and active-duty members.

“I can’t do anything to bring my son back, but I can honor him going forward and honor him in a way that can help others," Kowal said.

At My Warrior’s Place, they use mother nature, boating trips, kayaking, meditation, and group counseling to help active duty and veterans.

They are now adding one-on-one counseling, which will be beneficial for the troops coming home from Afghanistan. Experts believe a lot of those troops will have a hard time dealing with the end of the war, and how the war ended.

"It doesn’t really feel complete for individuals who sacrificed so much,” said Burkett.

Burkett is an Iraq war veteran, she served from 2001-07. She now works as a licensed counselor at My Warrior’s Place.

“A question a lot of individuals have is, 'What was the point? Why did we do this? Why did I do this?'” she said. “That is a source of frustration for a lot of those who served.”

Burkett is one of three licensed counselors who will be working with veterans and active-duty members.

She said the counseling centers will be open by September, and “individuals can make an appointment to come to seek services and get holistic therapy so they can address their needs.”

My Warrior’s Place also provides services for Gold Star Families.

For more information, or make an appointment for My Warrior’s Place, click here.