A local Iraq war veteran with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder told local leaders Thursday of the need for a veterans center in Helena and how important such facilities can be in the treatment of PTSD.
Local veterans advocates, including retired Adj. Gen. Gene Prendergast and retired 1st Lt. Diane Carlson Evans, are continuing a campaign to bring a center here, hoping to get the VA to take a closer look at Helena.
The VA secretary said in December that it had no immediate plans to add such a facility here but would continue to look at ongoing needs.
Retired Army Sgt. Ryan Ranalli, a Capital High School graduate, told the weekly Hometown Helena meeting that he enlisted in 2001, before the terrorist attacks of that year, with an interest in seeing the world. He was among the first waves of American troops to enter Iraq, crossing from Kuwait on March 21, 2003. He returned about a year later.
But friends have died, and others committed suicide, and Ranalli had little understanding of PSTD and traumatic brain injury, or TBI.
“I just couldn’t get out of my head that I wanted to go back to Iraq,” he said.
But on the way there, at Fort Campbell, Ky., Ranalli suffered seizures. He retired from the Army in 2008.
He’s received treatment for PTSD, all involving veterans centers, except in Helena. The veterans centers do not replace the VA, but fill needs the VA cannot, Ranalli said. It’s a place, he said, where veterans don’t have to worry about saying something wrong.
Just about all the counselors are veterans, and many of them have seen combat.
“They didn’t just read a book,” he said. “They understood what was going on too. A lot of them had been to the same places.”
Ranalli is working with Prendergast and Evans and others to raise awareness of the need for a veterans center and demonstrate community support for the facility to the VA. Montana has such centers in Kalispell, Great Falls, Billings and Bozeman.
“It’s an everyday thing,” Ranalli said of PTSD. “And if there’s a place where you can walk in and just talk to somebody … it’s a lot better than waiting or being turned away.”
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or email@example.com