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Vets Peer-to-Peer Outreach Center opens in Watertown

A new center to help veterans through mental health problems opened Friday in Watertown. Veteran volunteers will help their peers get the services they need.

The Vets Peer-to-Peer Outreach Center is homey and welcoming, with couches and televisions and a bookshelf full of volumes about war experiences and the military.

Tedd Stiles directs the Mental Health Association, which will run the center. At the grand opening Friday, he said it’s designed to make veterans who may be wary of the stigmas of mental health issues feel welcome.

"They'd come in, they'd get some coffee, maybe sit on the couch, watch some TV, and start talking to one of the advocates, one of the peers – one of the volunteers – about what's going on with their life, maybe what kind of problems they're having, whatever they want to talk about," Stiles said.

The center doesn't offer professional counseling on site; rather, it's set up as a gateway to help link up vets with services that are available elsewhere. Stiles says trained veteran volunteers can accompany veterans to appointments, help with paperwork, and will build a rapport both with the veteran and those offering the services.

"Right out of the gate, we're probably going to see lots of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, but we also can deal with medical issues, homelessness, whatever kind of issues a veteran would walk in the door with," Stiles said.

The center is funded by two grants focusing on peer counseling for veterans. One is named in memory of Private 1st Class Joseph Dwyer, a veteran of the Iraq war from New York state. He was famously photographed holding an injured Iraqi child. He later committed suicide after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. An artist's drawing of that photograph will be displayed at the Outreach Center.