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SILVER SPRING – It’s been quite a few years since Bill Gray was an infantryman in Vietnam, but his frightening flashbacks continue.
However, about seven years ago, Gray stopped into the Silver Spring Veterans Center counseling center, and the help he received there has enabled him to get closer to people.
At the center, which U.S. Sen. Van Hollen (D-Md.) toured during a snowy Feb. 1 morning, Gray has “learned how to ground himself.” Now, when a war memory starts to take over, he stands with both feet grounded strongly to the floor and repeats to himself, ‘The memories I am having are only memories. They are not going to affect me.’
The ritual, which he learned during a counseling session at the center, “has helped me tremendously,” Gray said.
The center offers mental health counseling to anyone who has served or currently serves and to their families, said its director, Wayne Miller. The center allows veterans to define who is in their family, which sometimes includes the buddies they fought alongside.
Veterans who need medical care and medicine are referred to other veterans’ centers, he said.
During Van Hollen’s visit “to see things close up,” he explained, the Senator asked questions of employees and took time to praise and thank each one individually. He reiterated his work on passing health care laws for veterans and helping open the Montgomery County Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Gaithersburg, which debuted last fall.
Miller, in turn, thanked Van Hollen for his efforts before asking for help with two items.
Miller said he would love to see a nursing home for veterans established in the county. He also would like the county’s RideOn bus, which stops by the center, to also stop at the nearby Forest Glen Metro station so more veterans would be able to make it to their counseling sessions.
At the small veterans center building on Silver Spring’s Linden Lane, whose walls are covered in photos and paintings depicting all this country’s wars, help is offered to all those who walk in the door, said Miller, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Sometimes it is just a matter of referring veterans to the proper place for help with homelessness, employment and federal benefits.
Other times, employees at the center welcome the veterans into individual and/or group counseling.
About 300 people per week participate in these sessions, said Miller, noting that there are 42,000 veterans who are Montgomery county residents.
The youngest recipient of services at the center is 22 years old. The oldest, a World War II veteran, is 97.
Much of the counseling they receive involves helping the veteran readjust to civilian life.
“The majority of our clients are Vietnam veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan are catching up,” Miller said.
Also increasing is the number of female veterans who are clients, which “has grown by leaps and bounds” since the center first opened on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring in 1979, Miller said.
Shantel Winkfield, a licensed clinical social worker, deals with clients who have experienced sexual trauma.
The people she sees do not have had to report or document the incident, she said, adding, everything is treated confidentially.
“Because of the #MeToo movement, there has been an increase” in the number of people coming to the center, she said. Some of the clients come to her, wondering if the problems they keep having are related to a particular sexual incident.
The center currently has three full-time counselors and is in the process of adding a fourth, who hopefully will be fluent in Spanish, Miller said.