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Dr. Wozniak Testifies Before NY City Council on Veterans’ Mental Health

While suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, suicide among veterans is twice that of the general population. More than 20 service members kill themselves each day, according to a 2018 report published by the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs. This tragedy was the focal point of the February 26th joint oversight hearing on veteran suicide and mental health headed by New York City council members Chaim Deutsch (Chair of the Committee on Veterans) and Diana Ayala (Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction).

In addition to the psychological challenges facing New York City veterans, the hearing sought to learn more about the resources available to this vulnerable population and, in the words of Councilman Chaim Deutsch, “how to provide and strengthen those supports.”

Testifying before NY city council members, Dr. Wozniak discussed how the Wurzweiler School of Social Work is currently addressing the struggles of city veterans through its Care Cafe – a mobile mental health program that serves city residents in a café-like environment, and which for the past two years, has had a special outreach mission to former service members.

Wozniak noted that the Care Café, which receives funding from the New York City Council Committee on Veterans, has successfully partnered with other organizations – from the Harlem and Bronx Vet Centers to Samaritan Village – to identify the type of programming that specifically addresses veterans needs, including those arising from PTSD, addiction and chronic pain. Last year, it joined forces with the Telling Project and the Lincoln Center Veteran Initiative to host a storytelling event in which veterans shared their military experience with the general public.

“Many of the men who the Care Café serves feel forgotten and are struggling to find a road back to civilian life,” said Dr. Wozniak “Because these men feel so isolated and are often pathologized and criminalized, it is critical to normalize the environment in which they receive services.” Towards that end, Care Café has delivered workshops on reducing anxiety, managing pain and improving nutrition – all in a setting in which participants connect with their peers. (Research indicates that peer connections are vital in helping veterans regain a foothold in society.)

“The vets we have been working with over the last two years are really experiencing chronic problems,” noted Wozniak in her remarks. “There may be no cure for what they are experiencing. But with support, connection and management there is transformation. And the Wurzweiler’s Care Café has been able to do that.”