By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – More than $1.9 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund will go to a non-profit organization that helps veterans with increase PTSD issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Thursday.
“Our veterans, who have sacrificed so much defending our freedom, are due our gratitude and complete and total support,” Ivey said in a statement. “Even during what has been an extremely challenging year, we must always look out for those who have looked out for our country.”
The Alabama-based group, Priority Soldier, was awarded the funds for a four-week virtual group therapy program to serve veterans currently receiving treatment for PTSD and whose condition has worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program consists of veterans meeting virtually three times a week for 60-minute sessions in groups of three to five veterans. The program had been scheduled to end on Dec. 29.
The small groups are meant to build a strong sense of community and support and encourage veterans to share their emotions and challenges in a safe and supportive environment while also receiving expertise in coping methods and sensory regulation with the hopes of using the learned strategies long after the program is finished.
Ken Phillips is the CEO and founder of Priority Soldier, is a native of Tuskegee, Alabama and is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserves.
“Veterans enrolled in the Priority Soldier program have stated that the stress of PTSD and COVID-19 is eased by talking to people who understand their military experience and how it affects the way they cope in these difficult times,” Phillips said in a statement. “The program is tailored to meet the needs of the specific vets in each group, allowing positive change in areas as diverse as marital communications, depression, anxiety and insomnia. Priority Solider is delighted to partner with Governor Ivey and the state of Alabama on this important project and appreciate the state’s continued support of Alabama’s veterans.”
The program will serve 11 counties including Montgomery, Madison, Dallas, Tuscaloosa, Coffee, Macon, Calhoun, Talladega, Lauderdale, Lowndes and Walker.
Currently, 60 veterans are enrolled in the program, but organizer plan to expand it to serve 340 veterans who meet the criteria.
There are currently 125,787 veterans in Alabama who have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to the Project Soldier Statewide Proposal.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on the mental health of veterans affected by constant isolation and other stresses caused by uncertainty,” said Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Kent Davis in an emailed statement. “Health experts warn that some of the worst impacts to mental health may not manifest themselves fully until after the immediate crisis has passed.”
The coronavirus relief dollars are meant to fund things like licensed psychologists, separate county project directors, outreach/ data coordinators and HIPPA compliant telehealth conferencing systems.
The funding needs for each counties’ program is broken down in the program’s proposal.
The money comes from the state’s $1.7 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund which has to be spent by the end of this year. Any funds the state doesn’t spend has to be given back to the federal government.
According to state data, $1.2 billion of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund has been spent so far.