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Role-playing group offers support for veterans |

Role-playing group offers support for veterans

Renatta Signorini
| Monday, February 4, 2019 1:30 a.m
Steve Whitman, a Marine Corps veteran who lives in East Vandergrift, is involved with starting a program in Claridge to help veterans.

Veteran X isn’t a real person, but his problems are.

He might have housing issues or a drug addiction. Maybe he isn’t sure how to get his discharge paperwork or health care.

The solutions Veteran X finds to deal with situations like those are aimed at helping real veterans through a new program being held in Claridge.

“While they’re helping Veteran X along his path, they’re really helping each other,” said Dawn Smitley, vice president of nonprofit group Devil Dogs. “They get camaraderie that they only find in each other.”

Veteran X is a peer-support program designed to engage male and female veterans through role-playing. One member of the group — Veteran X — shares with the group his problems while the rest of the veterans suggest solutions. The ensuing discussion can help veteran participants tap into their experiences to help others or learn how to tackle a problem they may have.

The Westmoreland group started in January, meeting on Wednesdays at the American Legion in Claridge. It is open to anyone who has completed boot camp in any branch of the military.

A celebration is planned Wednesday for veterans and current military members in an effort to get the word out. Devil Dogs president Steve Whitman, who lives in East Vandergrift with girlfriend Smitley, said the group is not a therapy session but rather a social gathering of like minds.

“You’re not the only one,” Whitman said. “You see this roomful of people that are just like you.”

In March, Whitman started attending a Veteran X program in Butler that is associated with VA Butler Healthcare and immediately realized he wasn’t the only one who had struggles.

“I knew right away that this is something that I would benefit greatly from,” he said. “It just addressed everything I was questioning.”

Whitman served with the Marines from 1990 to 1995 and was stationed for a time in Japan. His father also is a veteran of the Marines and served during the Vietnam War

Now, Whitman is acting as Veteran X in the Claridge group. The character’s story will evolve over a year.

Smitley said area officials with varying expertise will be talking to Veteran X about his problems at future meetings. Veterans who attend the meetings will get incentives.

Amie Skolak-McKeel of Jeannette said the program offers another type of community for veterans. Her husband and father, both Army veterans, have attended the Claridge group’s meetings.

“I really feel like this is something that a lot of people can get behind in this county because it can be so amazing,” she said.

Members of Veteran X also are doing outreach with veterans in need and have other events planned throughout the year, Smitley said. There are about 28,000 veterans in Westmoreland County.

Matt Zamosky, director of the county’s veterans affairs department, has not attended a meeting yet but plans to in the future.

“The group format works well because it’s the best way to explain to an individual that they’re not alone,” he said, speaking generally about veterans programs in group settings.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter @byrenatta.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter .

Categories: News | Westmoreland
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