ST. PETETSBURG – It’s difficult for many veterans to seek help after they’ve lived through traumatic experiences in the military. They have played the role of protector, so when the tables are turned, asking for help can create a challenge. However, WestCare Veteran Mentoring Program is there to help veterans through difficult period in their lives.
WestCare, a national non-profit organization that focuses on treating mental illness and drug addictions, has partnered with Pinellas Veterans Treatment Court. The aim of this special court is to help veterans deal with their current criminal charges and stop them from getting into further trouble.
It’s also designed to help with substance abuse or mental health issues that may have caused or contributed to their legal problems. Only veterans charged with misdemeanors and certain felonies, such as drug-related charges, burglary, grand theft and battery might qualify.
Lonnie Winbush, a WestCare representative and marine veteran, travels around Tampa Bay to recruit veteran mentors. He speaks to a variety of military/veteran organizations about the benefits of veterans who mentor other veterans. He recently shared with student veterans at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg about its benefits.
“For a veteran to mentor a veteran, it’s as if he’s your brother in arms. He’s crossed the same ground that you’ve crossed, maybe not the same place but he’s been there and he’s seen the military community,” Winbush said, whose has worked at WestCare for almost two years. “He knows how it’s talked about, knows what goes on, knows how it works, so this is why it’s much easier for a veteran to mentor a veteran.”
The treatment program is open to men and women veterans who qualify. He recruits both male and females so there are a variety of mentors for individuals needing help.
To become a mentor, a volunteer must be a military veteran and willing to give a certain amount of weekly hours to a veteran who seeks help. Once a volunteer veteran is assigned to a mentee in the program, some of their duties will be to call a veteran just to ask how they are doing, sitting with them, listening to his or her frustrations and being there for them when a shoulder is needed to cry on.
WestCare actively seeks mentors, and if you are a veteran who would like to give back to other veterans through this program, contact Lonnie Winbush at 727-490-6769 ext. 30304.