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New York veterans tout successes of peer-to-peer support group Dwyer Project

Russell Sellers/Fort Rucker
Retired Master Sgt. Earl Hamilton, Sr., Veterans of Foreign Wars Enterprise Chapter member, salutes the colors during the 2009 Veterans Day ceremony.

Veterans on Long Island say the Dwyer Project helps save lives.

During a Zoom call on Wednesday with state lawmakers and other veterans, they shared stories and praised the work of the veteran peer-to-peer support group.

The Dwyer Project started in 2012 as a collaboration between the Suffolk County United Veterans Program and the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency. The program now has chapters in 23 counties.

The organization connects veterans to each other to help ease reentry into society after their service.

They build bonds and connect to resources for mental health, housing assistance and education.

Mark Green, an army veteran from Nassau County, explained the importance of support while reintegrating into society.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Green said. “Those things that you needed to be successful in the military, or whatever you did in the military, do not carry over and is not conducive to a healthy relationship or healthy life.”

The organization was named after Joseph P. Dwyer, a Suffolk County army medic veteran who suffered from PTSD. He passed away after taking drugs and inhaling aerosol fumes after returning home from serving in Iraq.

The main goal of The Dwyer Project is to prevent veteran suicides. There were about 17 veteran suicides daily in 2019, according to the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

The most popular program discussed was the Dwyer Project’s Vet2Vet Program, where small groups of veterans meet to share their stories.

Suffolk County native Danielle Koulermous, an army veteran, said that the Dwyer Project is the “most important group (she) has ever been a part of.”

“Meeting these wonderful women who have had such hard experiences that we share together throughout generations and different types of services made it so impactful for me to know that I wasn’t alone,” Koluermous said.

Women in the military are often the target for sexual assault. One in three women reported they experienced military sexual trauma — compared to one in 50 men — according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ 2021 report.

In the chat section, Senator Samra Brouk wrote, “When I first heard about the Dwyer program I was especially moved by how important it was for our female veterans…. As mental health chair I will continue to fight for resources at the state level.”

Homelessness is also a key issue for veterans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in 2020 that nearly 58,000 veterans across the country experienced homelessness on a given night.

Allison Moore, an air force veteran from Niagara County, said she experienced homelessness and PTSD and didn’t have friends after returning from her service. Moore called her past self a “social loner,” but said she has since been empowered by the Dwyer Project and currently has a house, a dog and friends.

The director of Monroe County Veteran Services, Nick Stefanovic, ended the meeting calling the Dwyer Project “the most important programming that New York State does.”

The success of the project has also caught the attention of Governor Kathy Hochul. She set aside $225,000 to fund the Dwyer Project in her 2022 State of the State proposal.

Samantha is a former news intern with WSHU Public Radio.