Supporting soldiers

Bill_CrossPh_BW

Bill_CrossPh_BWClinical psychologist Bill Cross, Ph.D. latest speaker in Wounds of War Lecture Series

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

Veteran’s Day, Le Moyne College hosted the third and final presentation of the Wounds of War Lecture Series at Panasci Family Chapel. Bill Cross, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, discussed the needs of wounded U.S. military men and women. Nationwide, there are more than 30,000 troops whose wounds include physical injuries, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder,  emotional problems and combinations of the above.

The goal of the lecture series, which included people from a variety of faith communities, was to make people more aware of the impact of the war in Iraq. The lecture series was sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Center for Peace and Global Studies and Amnesty International at Le Moyne College, as well as the Syracuse Interfaith Iraq Reparations Project.

Cross graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the early 1960’s and was a tank unit commander in the Vietnam War. He also taught and counseled cadets at West Point. From the early 1970’s to the present, Cross served as an organizational consultant in the Syracuse community, utilizing the skills and training he learned in the military. Cross also maintained a private practice, offering individual, family and marriage counseling. For the past 10 years, he has instructed a course entitled “Stress Reduction” at the Zen Center in Syracuse.

In addition, Cross has earned many honors. He was presented with two bronze stars, one for valor and the other for meritorious service. He also received a cross of gallantry from the Republic of Vietnam. Cross received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and was the founder of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 51 in Syracuse. Cross is also the co-founder of West Point Grads Against the War.

Cross, who has counseled, organized and developed support systems for veterans and people who have concerns about the war, has created a program in which local mental health providers work pro bono with veterans and their family members who are not eligible for Veterans’ Affairs services.

The lecture began with Cross asking those in attendance, “Who do you think the victims of war really are?” He then gave his definition of the victims: “Victims are innocent people who are caught in the middle.” Cross listed some examples: service people and their families, veterans whose memories are triggered by the current wars, and the families who live with those veterans. “Where does the line of victims stop?” asked Cross. “It doesn’t stop — we’re all victims.”

Cross talked about some of the most common war experiences that veterans have shared with him over the years. The thrill of the risk of battle, fear, terror, a sense of intimacy that develops from the shared experience, a feeling of disgust about the things they have witnessed and done and a sense of responsibility for other veterans and the people they have killed and whose homes they have destroyed are some of the issues shared by veterans.

Cross described some of the aftereffects many veterans experience when they return home from war. A feeling of disconnection between the veteran and the rest of society is common, as well as depression, exaggerated responses to loud noises, irritability and  misuse of alcohol. They also feel a sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride at having served.

“The most problematic, though, is the syndrome of post traumatic stress disorder,” said Cross. “Many veterans at the VA [Veteran’s Administration Hospital] are treated with medication for this, but medication alone is not effective in the long run. The VA staff is highly overworked. The person with post traumatic syndrome needs to connect with another person — a trained professional.”

Cross said another problem that occurs with veterans is traumatic brain injury.

Cross and some of his colleagues have developed a support system to address the needs of returning veterans who are not eligible for VA benefits. “We’ve been seeing a number of vets,” said Cross. “This work is really is a gift from all of us.”

At the close of his presentation, Cross suggested some ways the community can help fulfill the needs of veterans. “We need to educate ourselves about the needs of our returning veterans,” said Cross. “We need to listen to them. We can create religious services that bring veterans spiritual comfort and cleansing. We can restore the true meaning of respect and celebration of Memorial Day and Armistice Day and we can create religious, educational and therapeutic programs by which veterans can seek out not just psychological help, but spiritual support and cleansing and forgiveness. We can also invite veterans into schools and community centers to educate our young to the realities of war, not just to recruit.”

At the conclusion of Cross’ presentation, Patricia Chase, a registered clinical social worker and team leader at the Syracuse Vet Center/Readjustment Counseling Services, talked about the  counseling services available to veterans at the Vet Center. She said that the center, located at 716 E. Washington St. in Syracuse, provides counseling for veterans and a place for them to gather. They can receive counseling on a walk-in basis. “It’s a great place and we’re really fortunate here in Syracuse to have these services,” said Chase. “There’s no reason why any vet in this area should go without care.”

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