The Virginia Wounded Warrior Program is celebrating five years of helping veterans and their families across the state.
In the past five years, the program has helped 17,000 veterans and families with services, counseling, housing, and employment, including more than 700 local veterans in 2012.
"When I came home I had a lot of trouble, a lot of issues with anger, frustration, depression," said medically-discharged Army veteran Kimberly Howard. "I found myself sleeping a lot, isolating, and the typical thing of most veterans with nightmares."
Howard said she struggled after coming home from Iraq and eventually joined a PTSD support group.
"It felt like going from insanity to sanity," she said. "I no longer had to sit on the edge of my bed at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning and wish that I was dead."
Support groups connecting veterans are just one of the many services offered by the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.
"We provide employment assistance, housing assistance, financial assistance. We really try to be the safety net for veterans in Virginia," said Matt Wade, the regional director of the program. "This year we are increasing our ability to provide housing, we are getting more active in prisoner reentry, and we are also continuing to expand our use of telehealth, which lets veterans link up with their mental health providers in their own communities rather than having to travel to the VA."
Wade says since 2011, our region has seen a 215 percent increase in the number of veterans served. Last year, southwest Virginia had more than 2,000 instances of service, more than a third of the total of services statewide.
"I have a wonderful marriage today, completely restored. My son is an honor student and he is in gifted and I myself have returned to college," said Howard, who is now studying to help other veterans in need. "It's a debt you could never repay. An expression of gratitude for how we've grown and healed because of the Virginia Wounded Warriors. We would've lost it all, we would've lost it all."
Wade says other states are now modeling programs after Virginia's.
A 5-year celebration is planned for Friday, Oct. 18 from 4:30-7:30 at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
For more information about the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, visit their website.