An upcoming forum will explore post-traumatic stress in veterans and others and offer solutions for healing, which could also help those affected by the deadliest shooting in Maine’s modern history last month.
Fedcap Maine’s Veterans Forward program is hosting the forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 14, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The program launched two years ago and offers case management, employment, financial assistance and housing services to veterans.
Planning for the forum was in the works for about a year, and nobody could plan on a mass shooting in Maine, so the events are coincidental, said Serena Powell, executive director of Families Forward in Maine.
Mainers are still hurting two weeks after the shooting at a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston, which killed 18 people and injured another 13, and the resources offered at the forum could be helpful as they process their feelings, Powell said.
About 6 percent of the United States population and 7 percent of veterans will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, during their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2020, roughly 13 million Americans had PTSD. The forum is meant to be a safe space for those who have dealt with trauma, where they can learn about it and how to cope.
“In Maine, our veterans are challenged with a variety of barriers and challenges in their lives,” she said. “There is a lot of confusion about post-traumatic stress and where to find services. We thought it was important to bring this information to the communities we serve.”
About 70 percent of adults in the U.S. experience at least one traumatic event, Paula Schnurr, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, told the New York Times last year. The National Institute of Mental Health defines that as “a shocking, scary or dangerous experience that can affect someone emotionally and physically.”
Traumatic events include natural disasters, car crashes and acts of violence, such as assault and mass shootings. For some, feeling angry, anxious or sad, and having trouble sleeping, among other symptoms, lessen over time, according to the institute. People who continue to experience symptoms may be diagnosed with PTSD.
The event, which is free and open to anyone, is being promoted statewide. It was initially geared toward Maine veterans and will be held a few days after Veterans Day, which is Friday, Nov. 10.
Lewiston shooting survivors and their family members were not specifically targeted for attendance, but they are encouraged to come, Powell said. That includes members of law enforcement and emergency workers who responded to the carnage on the evening of Oct. 25, though it may be too soon for some to learn and share about their trauma, she said.
Powell heard from staff members that some combat veterans in Lewiston were triggered by the mass shooting, which marked the deadliest in the United States this year, and post-traumatic stress symptoms came up for them, she said.
“These events have such a ripple effect in Maine,” she said. “I think everyone in Maine can name someone they are related to or know who was impacted by those [two] shootings.”
Jason Kander, who served as a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan and dealt with untreated PTSD, is the keynote speaker. He is the former former secretary of state in Missouri.
Kander has served as the president of national expansion at the Veterans Community Project since 2019, working to prevent suicide and homelessness among veterans.
Attendees will have a chance to ask Kander questions. Then Brian Cummings, Veterans Forward’s director of services, will moderate a discussion with panelists, including a few with military backgrounds.
Panelists include Maj. Gen. John “Bill” Libby, former head of the Maine National Guard; Dory Hacker from Maine Behavioral Healthcare; Tori Tracy, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine; and Kim Slininger, a veteran and founder of Hope for Healing, which offers equine therapy.
It is Veterans Forward’s first time hosting such an event, and it hopes to fill the Hannaford Hall auditorium at the USM campus, which holds 500 people, Powell said. For those who wish to tune in online, the forum will be livestreamed on the program’s website and Facebook page.
Wreaths Across America Radio will broadcast the audio from the forum.
Veterans Forward works with veterans to meet their needs, which range from financial help for heating fuel in the winter to saving a person on the brink of becoming homeless, Powell said. Last week, the program paid for a veteran’s new tires so they could keep their job and get to work reliably, she said. In the past, it has covered hotel stays while partners like Preble Street work to get a veteran into stable housing.
The forum requires registration, which can be done on the Veterans Forum website.