Phoenix VA opens new center for PTSD

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PHOENIX -- Suicide rates among Army soldiers remain high. The military is investigating 18 more soldier suicides in March. It brings the total to 45 nationwide in 2012.

The Phoenix VA Health Care System is taking a major step toward curing military mental health problems. Officials broke ground Thursday on a new VA Mental Health Clinic adjacent to the hospital on Indian School Road.

"We all know that men and women who go to war, come home with war. We're looking to treat everything from traumatic brain injury to PTSD to substance abuse," said VA Medical Center Director Sharon Helman.

VA officials say up to a quarter of the returning men and women from war zones have some form of mental illness or trauma.

"It's not a stigma or something to be feared and avoided," said Dr. Michael Chesser, who works at the VA, "It's something to be recognized. Without the support for mental health we provide, you'd have people wandering in the wilderness even more."

Dr. Chesser is also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force National Guard who deployed to Iraq.

"Too many veterans are still too hesitant to come forward and admit they're having problems," said Chesser. Many continue to be concerned that a PTSD diagnosis would be a career killer.

"I have seen the military go to great lengths to de-stigmatize it and get the message out that it takes strength to step forward, but they don't want to be perceived as weak or defective," said Chesser.

He says he's seen veterans return after six or seven deployments, which only adds to the risk factor.

The new Mental Health Clinic will be three floors, and cost $8.5million.   It should open in June of 2012.

"The need for mental health help is tremendous at the VA," said the VA's Chief Psychologist, Dr. Leslie Telfer, "All we need for them to do is come in so we can help them."