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More on Garden Park's new S.T.A.R. Wellness Program

If you read Saturday's Sun Herald, you saw the story about Garden Park Medical Center's new nine-bed Post Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Wellness Program for active duty military and veterans. Below is more of the back story that got the ball rolling for the surprisingly rare facility.

In talking with Garden Park spokeswoman Angie Juzang and CEO Brenda Waltz, they made it apparent that employee Tina Simmons was in large part the inspiration for their new S.T.A.R. Wellness Program -- which is scheduled to debut in August.

Simmons' family is certainly a military family, with two sons and her husband having served the country. When she told her coworkers about one of her son's struggles with post-traumatic stress after returning stateside from three tours, they knew something needed to be done for her son and other veterans like them.

Waltz said she heard about Simmons' son the first winter she was at Garden Park (the Winter of 2010-11).

"When I heard about her story I started checking into it. I said, first of all, this area is one of two (in the country) that has every branch of the military. It is a crying shame that we can't take care of our military," she said. "When I dug further, they were having to go as far west as California and who knows east to get treatment for these folks. How many hundreds of thousands of military do we have in this area? And we can't take care of our own people? It's a crying shame. Shame on us."

Once the ball got rolling, Waltz said it was a long, drawn out process that actually included getting the program written into the state health plan. While petitioning Mississippi decision makers to grant Garden Park with the "certificate of need" required to move forward with the program, Simmons wrote a heartfelt letter -- which is attached to Reporting For Duty.

In the letter, Simmons recalled her son's struggles -- both with PTS (no "D" anymore, apparently) and then the VA -- in excruciating detail. After one episode, he was taken to the VA -- and then called home almost 48 hours later after he was told they didn't have room for him.

"Fortunately for our son, we were adamant in making sure that he gets the 'outpatient' help and support they offered. We can be here to push him onward. But, what about those soldiers that do not have family support? Where does that leave them?" she closed. "Devastated and defeated, thinking that nobody in the world is there to help them. Remember, these are the ones that fought for our freedom. Let's give them the assistance they deserve."

Garden Park is currently renovating a wing on the fourth floor to house the program. With just nine beds, Garden Park won't be able to help all veterans who suffer from PTS at once, but Waltz said if the program proves to be successful they'll go through the process of seeking approval for expansion.

For more on post-traumatic stress, click HERE to visit the VA's National Center for PTSD.