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On Your Mind: Veterans groups discuss the mental health resources available for South Texas vets

“Our service never ends when we get out of the service. It actually just starts. We get out there, we serve with the community, we take care of each other."

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Later this week, our nation will recognize Veterans Day; a time to reflect and show our support and gratitude to the heroes among us as well as those who've gone before us. 

For those heroes who made it back home, and who are now here in our communities, their scars from the service may not always be visible. 

In this edition of, "On Your Mind," 3NEWS anchor Leslie Adami met with the veterans behind some of the groups and mental health resources vets in the Coastal Bend can turn to for support and assistance.

One of those groups is the office of Veterans Services for Nueces County. It's led by director, J.J. De La Cerda. For him, the work is very personal, and hits close to home.

"I left the Marine Corps, but the Marine Corps never left me, and I'm gonna carry that with me," said De La Cerda. "Our service never ends when we get out of the service. It actually just starts. We get out there, we serve with the community, we take care of each other. Veterans helping veterans."

An honor to help serve those who served us, but a weight that can also be heavy to carry. 

"You know, vets coming back from Afghanistan, Iraq, they -- that's a new phase. It's new war, a different war. So, we gotta make sure we approach it properly."

When it comes to mental health or PTSD, De La Cerda said acceptance is the most important in addition to knowing you're not alone, even if the triggers are different for everyone.

"A lot of us don't feel like we have PTSD. It's our spouses and family that notice it, but it's important to try and accept it. Let them help you," he said. "If we don't try, it only gets worse."

De La Cerda reminds that if you are in a crisis there is always help for you. His office can help point you in the right direction for counseling (such as the Vets Center on Corona Drive, the V.A., the County MHID) or other services you may need. Some of the other avenues his office can assist veterans with include:

- applying for benefits through the V.A.

- assisting spouses after a loved one passes away with survivors' benefits

- obtaining a DD214 

- getting set up with the veterans cemetery 

- connecting local veterans to donations and groups who gather donated goods specifically for veterans. Examples include: the Veterans Connection of the Coastal Bend Facebook group, Veterans Meat Distribution Program or Fish for Life 

- helping them get food through the office's food pantry

Arthur Fanning is also a local veteran working to connect fellow veterans with helpful resources. He works with the Texas Veterans Network and is also currently attending Texas A&M Kingsville to pursue a master's degree in mental health and counseling.

 "As a veteran, and as a war-time veteran, I know it's kind of something that helps out and doing it during my school time helps me to understand it better," said Fanning.

Fanning says the network helps host support groups for OIF, OEF and Vietnam Era veterans as well. He says for many of these vets at the time of service, mental health conversations were taboo, but bringing them to light now can be extremely helpful toward healing.

"I know that the military was kind of against that for a while. I know it was just one of those things you kind of got looked down on, especially in combat arms," said Fanning. "So, being able to actually reach out to these resources while you’re in service and post-service and being a little more open-minded to that care, I think will go a long way to helping a veteran in the long run, and allowing them to be more stable when they get out too."

From the Coastal Bend to Kuwait: that's where we were able to connect with Dr. Sarah Skelton, a clinical psychologist and the military and veteran coordinator for TAMUCC's counseling center. 

According to Skelton, about 10-percent of the student body population is military-connected, whether those are student veterans or dependents. 

She is currently in Kuwait on deployment for a mission serving as a behavioral health officer and aeromedical psychologist with the 36th Aviation Brigade, which is out of the Texas National Guard. 

This is her 17th year in the service. She shared how early on she realized the importance of taking care and addressing one's mental health in the military.

"I joined about the fourth year after 9/11, so this was when we were seeing our first push of veterans coming out after that initial onset of war," said Skelton. "I was right on the cusp of getting my master’s degree in counseling and seeing all the significant mental health challenges that we were having a hard time adjusting to, because we had really not seen anything like that in my lifetime or since Vietnam."

Through the counseling center, Skelton focuses on coordinating student vets on campus from everything to running groups on prevention, intervention and outreach or employment/benefits counseling.

"Those stressors can be significant and cause mental health issues, so by resolving some of those stressors we’re not pathologizing their normal process of transitioning into our community," explained Skelton. "Not all veterans have PTSD. I think sometimes that can be a myth that comes with being in uniform, but I also don’t want to minimize the people that do have significant struggles with PTSD, so it’s certainly a balance we’re looking for of honoring their service, honoring their sacrifices." 

She too has seen how different the struggles can vary from veteran to veteran, and whether it's in-person or from a completely different continent, Dr. Skelton says she will be there for them.

“I continue to be amazed at our soldiers. I’m now at a place where I look at them and think how young they are, but they really just amaze me everyday with their tenacity and their strength and their ability to overcome and their resilience. When I work out in the community, I want our community to see that. I don’t want them to see broken. I don’t want them to see damaged," Skelton said. 

"They bring so much to our campus they really enhance our campus life and make it a better place and I think make me a better clinician. So, that’s what keeps me serving, is being able to serve alongside with them and to just be able to amplify their voices sometimes."


- Burn Pits 360: call 1-800-685-3983 or email burnpitadvocates@burnpits360.org 

- Nueces County Veterans Services: call 361-888-0820 or email: juan.delacerda@nuecesco.com or diana.acosta@nuecesco.com

- To reach the Texas Veterans Network, click here

- Corpus Christi Vet Center: call 361-854-9961

- Military Veteran Peer Network (MVPN): call 361-886-1086

- Texas A&M Corpus Christi Military and Veteran Services: call 361-825-8627 or email vets@tamucc.edu

- Texas A&M Kingsville Military & Veterans Resource Center: call 361-593-4421 or email veterans@tamuk.edu

- Veteran's Crisis Line: call 9-8-8, and press 1 OR text 838255 to connect with a VA responder

- Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: call 9-8-8


- Mental health expert gives good tips for adjusting to daylight saving time

- Burn Pits 360 hosts 'PACT Act' information session for South Texas veterans

- Rethinking the way mental health crises are handled in the Coastal Bend

- Day of Giving: Family Counseling Services says their doors are always open

- On Your Mind: Continuing the conversation of suicide awareness & prevention with NAMI Greater Corpus Christi

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