Military Yearbook 2012: Red Cross offers many services to veterans, familiesWritten by John Rasche | | JRasche@toledofreepress.com
“An American tragedy” is how one longtime local Red Cross volunteer describes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues faced by military members.
“The psychological stress that many members of the armed forces face — problems such as PTSD and suicide — is an American tragedy that will get worse and worse unless the issue is addressed now,” said Fred Vallongo, a volunteer with the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Vallongo is a volunteer mental health worker for the local Red Cross chapter as well as a national instructor for the organization’s Reconnection Workshops. The workshops are designed to offer support and education to service members and their families.
“Toledo and Northwest Ohio are historically military-friendly areas. We have high numbers of people who enlist in the military and a lot of the problems we face are reconnecting families (after deployment),” said Vallongo, a veteran who served as a Navy hospital corpsman in the Marine Corps and has been involved with the Red Cross for 17 years. “For every joyful reunion that is shown on the local news, there is always a tenser issue somewhere else.”
The Reconnection Workshops range from lessons on communicating clearly to exploring stress and trauma. Family members also learn how to identify signs of depression in their loved ones and what they can do to help.
Other workshops are available to returning military members who have difficulty preparing for deployment or assimilating back to their lives at home. The classes include topics such as “Working Through Anger” and “Relating to Children” and provide military members with the counseling and information needed to reconnect with their families.
The local Red Cross chapter also provides an emergency communications service that directs messages from family members to active military members wherever they are stationed.
“The military relies on the Red Cross to verify the conditions of an emergency back home,” said Ken Robinson, Red Cross regional director of programs and services. “Sometimes the emergencies are happy news, such as a recent birth, but most of the calls received are for sad news regarding a death in the family.”
After a family reaches out to the Red Cross with their personal emergency, the organization immediately contacts the hospital or funeral home to confirm details. An official message is then sent overseas to another Red Cross office closer to the family’s service member. A military officer responds before relaying the message to the intended receiver, who can then formally ask the unit’s commander for temporary leave.
The Greater Toledo Area Chapter delivered between 300 and 400 emergency messages last year, Robinson said.
“At the local level, we also do family follow-ups (after sending the message) to find out how the family members are doing or if they need anything through our resources,” Robinson said. “Once we’re confident that the family is OK, we will close up the case.”
Volunteers are always needed and appreciated, Vallongo said.
“Less than 1 percent of the population serves in a uniform that helps protect our country,” Vallongo said. “Servicemembers, firefighters, police officers — those people risk their lives every day for our safety. They have a heavy load to carry for the rest of us. I encourage the other 99 percent of us to find ways to help those brave men and women. If you look for a way to help, I’ll guarantee you’ll find a way.”
To learn more about Red Cross service programs for veterans and military families, contact the local chapter at (419) 329-2900. Volunteer inquiries and donations can be offered by visiting www.redcrosstoledo.org or www.redcross.org.