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A vehicle moves along a parade of American flags at the Roseburg VA Medical campus on Veterans Day in 2017.

As a Vietnam-era Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, Jessica Lloyd-Rogers knows the importance of outreach and advocacy for veterans struggling with mental illness.

Lloyd-Rogers is the chairwoman of a new organization that aims to fill that role. It’s called the Veterans Mental Health Advocacy Council, and although it holds monthly meetings at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center and has support, and a liaison, from the VA, the group isn’t run by the VA. Instead, it’s run by veterans, for veterans.

“It’s a very unusual model. When it works it’s been very effective, and we plan to be one of the groups that works,” Lloyd-Rogers said.

Lloyd-Rogers suppressed her emotions over her own trauma from severe sexual harassment she suffered in the Army. She found no help from her commanding officer at the time, who told her she should feel lucky to be attractive enough to be harassed.

After the military, she was busy with work and family and she stopped thinking about how the men in her unit had treated her. But a few years ago, it all came flooding back. First, she was so angry it was frightening, she said, and then she couldn’t stop crying. She began to have nightmares, uncharacteristically became angry at the drop of a hat, and began to fear she was going crazy. It was a Veterans Service Officer helping Lloyd-Rogers’ husband with eligibility paperwork who recognized the symptoms of PTSD and urged her to get help at the VA.

She’s grateful for the help she received, and now she wants to do what she can to ensure other veterans receive the help they need for problems ranging from PTSD to schizophrenia.

Lloyd-Rogers said there are about 25 people interested in being active members of Veterans Mental Health Advocacy Council. She hopes it will grow, and be able to support separate interest groups under its umbrella to address veterans with specific needs, such as homeless, women and LGBTQ veterans. She also hopes it can address the needs of noncombat veterans who may not realize they, too, are eligible for VA services.

The council will focus on outreach, education and advocacy. Lloyd-Rogers said the group wants to reach people who seek better access and those who don’t even know they’re qualified for services. Part of its mission will be to let veterans know what help is available and to help them obtain it. Also, the group wants to help educate VA staff who don’t specialize in mental health treatment about veterans’ mental health issues. While the group doesn’t intend to engage in advocacy for any one individual veteran’s issues, it does want to hear about those issues so it will know if multiple veterans are experiencing similar problems. If so, the group wants to be part of finding the solutions.

“It’s a huge chunk we’ve bit off and we know it, but we’re up to it. We’re veterans, you know? So we can do it,” Lloyd-Rogers said.

The council meets the second Monday of each month, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the Building 16 library conference room on the VA campus.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

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