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Sno-Valley Counseling employee offers free therapy to soldiers, families

Sheila Hunter of Sno-Valley Counseling offers free counseling services to veterans, soldiers and their families. - Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Sheila Hunter of Sno-Valley Counseling offers free counseling services to veterans, soldiers and their families.
— image credit: Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Military members, veterans of war and their families now have access to free, confidential counseling services in the Valley.

Sheila Hunter of Sno-Valley Counseling is volunteering with The Soldiers Project Northwest, a non-profit organization helping service members and families struggling with issues related to the trauma of war, including the cycle from pre-deployment to deployment to homecoming, as well as re-entry to civilian life.

Post-traumatic stress

One major issue affecting veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can appear in anyone who has been through a traumatic event. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, flashbacks and recurrent nightmares.

Experts estimate that almost one-third of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD, according to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Web site. The disorder affects about 6 to 10 percent of soldiers returning from Afghanistan, and as many as one in five veterans of the Iraq war.

Hunter remembers interacting with veterans suffering from PTSD before the term was even invented. In the 1970s, she was walking in Chicago with a Vietnam veteran, a manager at the accounting firm where she worked, when he had an episode.

“A car backfired, and he just hit the sidewalk so fast. I didn’t know what was going on with him, but I figured it had to do with Vietnam.”

She went on to study psychology, and “started putting two and two together about these vets that came back. These guys would start partying Friday night and not go home to their families until Monday night. They just drank to excess to blot it all out.”

Now that she’s worked as a counselor for almost three decades, Hunter is equipped to help veterans and their families cope with PTSD and other psychological issues. She hopes community members will reach out to veterans who may need help, and send them her way. Hunter also wants to work with troops engaged in more recent conflicts.

“If these people can meet me, even if it’s just for coffee, for an information interview, that’s great,” she said.

Helping families

War is hard not only on soldiers, but also on their loved ones.

Hunter said various forms of abuse can be prevalent in military families.

“You see physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse because the stress is phenomenal,” she said.

Children of troops are often adversely affected by their parents heading off to training and war.

“These men and women are coming and going, and they’re leaving their kids, and these kids don’t know if their parents are going to come back,” Hunter said.

Because their brains aren’t fully developed, younger children sometimes think they’re to blame for their parents’ departures.

“They take everything personally. They see their dad or mom coming and going, and they hear these things about the war, and they’re probably set up for anxiety disorder.

“It affects their school work. It affects their future relationships, their ability to make relationships,” she said.

Also, military families tend to move around a lot, which can sometimes lead to attachment disorder.

“The kids have got to be suffering. They might start using alcohol or drugs, and they don’t know why. So it would be good for them to come in” to therapy.

Hunter has decades of experience working with children, families, couples and individuals. Her counseling services are free to service members and their families – even ex-spouses: “If they’re traumatized by these conflicts, they qualify, too,” she said.

• Sheila Hunter, whose office is in downtown Snoqualmie, can be reached at (425) 831-2000. More information about The Soldiers Project Northwest is online at www.thesoldiersproject.org.

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