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Opinion

On the Town: Veterans suffering from PTSD get help from Wellness Works

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Performing a relaxation exercise at Wellness Works are, from left, U.S. Army vets Clint Deacon and Adam Cloys. They are standing in front of a painting by U.S. Marine Corps vet Kenneth James.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

“Twenty-two veterans a day in the U.S. lose their lives to suicide,” said Rachel Warmack, administrator/director of Glendale-based Wellness Works, during a recent fundraising event. “That’s almost one an hour.”

To help address those numbers, Wellness Works has been providing free services to U.S. veterans in the community for 13 years. However, services such as mental-health therapy, art-oriented health classes, relaxation classes and acupuncture and acupressure treatments require fundraising.

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Enjoying the company are, from left, Wellness Works Executive Director Lisa Raggio, State Sen. Anthony Portantino and U.S. Air Force vet Kathy Kensinger.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

On Aug. 18, a breakfast fundraiser was held to generate money for and community awareness about the plight of vets who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD. Lisa Raggio, executive director of Wellness Works, said she expected the breakfast will raise about $500.

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During a four-hour period, more than 60 veterans and their supporters dropped in for a $10 breakfast at the VFW Post 8310 in Burbank. Pancakes, bacon, sausages and eggs cooked-to-order were the order of the day.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) had breakfast with the vets in support of the VFW post.

“They are good people doing good things,” he said.

Portantino’s father, an electrical engineer for the government, fought in World War II. He was a member of the U.S. Army and part of “the greatest generation,” Portantino said. His father was also the first member of the family to go to college on the GI bill.

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Also attending the breakfast was Kathy Kensinger, vet and volunteer at Wellness Works. She volunteered to join the U.S. Air Force in 1970. Out of 14 other female volunteers (women weren’t drafted), she said she thinks she was chosen to serve because she “looked good in a uniform and was cute.”

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Organizers of the Breakfast Fundraiser are Camille Levee, Wellness Works board member; and Mickey DePalo, Captain, VFW 8310.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

She also had a high school diploma. At that time, women had to have a high school diploma to serve, “but men didn’t have to,” she said.

Kensinger was then stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines from 1971 through 1973. At Clark, POWs were brought in from Vietnam. She processed them to go back to the United States. She even met a POW from her hometown, Mishawaka, Ind. Kensinger next served as a medical administrator at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

Eventually, Kensinger received her college degree on the GI bill. She now works as a union organizer and is a charter member of the State Commission for Women Veterans.

Whenever Kensinger hears the refrain, “Women shouldn’t be in combat,” she answers, “Have you ever been around a woman who’s ticked off?”

As part of their continuing efforts to provide free services for U.S. veterans, the staff at Wellness Works holds relaxation classes two times a month on Saturdays.

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Last Saturday, 10 veterans and guests took a class focusing on relaxation techniques from the organization’s co-founder, Mary Lu Coughlin. The one-hour class is free and open to the public. It’s held at Wellness Works’ headquarters, 540 W. Broadway, Glendale.

Adam Cloys, a U.S. Army vet, is a regular at the relaxation classes. He is also a member of the Wellness Work’s writers’ group called Lit Squad and has contributed stories about his military life in “The Storytellers,” the group’s first published book.

Cloys had three deployments in Iraq. Through a veterans’ club at Pasadena City College, he was introduced to Wellness Works.

“I love it here. I swear by it. It needs to be in more places,” Cloys said.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Patrick Ignacio, also goes to the relaxation class. He admits to having post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The Veteran’s Administration pushes meds, I want to work on skills over pills,” Ignacio said. The skills to alleviate stress during relaxation classes include ways to counter the insomnia Ignacio has because he relives his combat encounters in the Middle East every night in his dreams.

Coughlin demonstrated the relaxation technique by pressing her finger on her forehead and, at the same time, pressing another finger in the middle of her chest. Coughlin said the acupressure exercises she demonstrates in the class also help relieve depression and anxiety.

As part of Wellness Works’ veteran suicide awareness project called “Not on Our Watch,” vets will walk along Canada Boulevard and stand watch 24 hours a day nonstop in Verdugo Park, Sept. 13 through 15.

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