Veterans groups in Dubuque work on outreach to younger vets after California shooting

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- The incident in California has organizations in Iowa looking at the ways they help veterans.

Veterans and volunteers eat lunch at the Veterans Freedom Center in Dubuque on Friday, Nov. 9. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

In Dubuque, veterans groups offer mental health services, but they say they'd like to reach younger vets.

The Veterans Freedom Center is one of those organizations.

On any given day, one can find people hanging out there, playing pool, eating lunch or just chatting.

Vietnam veteran Jim Wagner started this center to bring together vets suffering with post traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues.

"It eases their mind for one thing. It shows them that they're not the only one out there with this," Wagner said.

He understands the struggle himself.

"You don't have any energy, you don't want to do anything," Wagner described symptoms of PTSD. "I'd sit at home with all the shades closed during the day."

Wagner got months of treatment in Wisconsin where he learned coping mechanisms that he still uses today.

"If I”m starting to really get upset, I have a stop sign that goes automatically in my brain that goes 'stop,'" he explained.

He believes talking with friends and keeping your mind busy is a good way to cope, but so is therapy or medication.

"It's never gonna go away, but with treatment and medication, it can…it slows a lot of it down," he said.

Veterans Affairs Clinic Counselor Cathy Durand-Graves tries to help vets with their PTSD by tackling it head on.

She explained, "what each person has to do is they have to turn and they have to go and look right at it and figure out what slice they have. They have to start figuring it out."

Durand-Graves said there is also a shortage of counselors.

"We probably need more bodies to do the work right and they all need to be trained," she said.

Another issue is not everyone seeks treatment, especially those in their 20s.

"We really want to try more and more outreach, figure out what is it going to take for them to come find support," she said. "Because they don't. They have jobs, they have kids, they have all these things going on, and it's hard for them to carve in enough self-care."

Wagner is trying to reach out to younger vets as well, although he said the center is starting to see more of them.

He admits it can be difficult for veterans to ask for help.

"Veterans are proud people and they don't want to admit," he said.

Durand-Graves encourages veterans to visit the  National Center for PTSD if they are unsure if they have PTSD or want to learn more about treatment options.