Published October 31. 2013 2:00PM Updated November 01. 2013 4:00PM
New London — After struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to navigate a complex bureaucracy to get help, David Pressler says he wants to give back to veterans who are facing similar challenges.
As the city’s new veterans’ liaison, Pressler will answer questions from veterans in City Hall. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio swore him in to the volunteer, unpaid position Thursday.
“There are a lot of resources out there, finding them is hard,” Pressler said.
One of the biggest problems, he said, is that service members are trained to go overseas and fight as warriors, “but we don’t train them to come back.
“We expect them to integrate into society but they come back with wounds and they’re not always on the outside,” said Pressler, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps.
Finizio said the recent tragedy in Waterford “reminds us the stresses and issues confronting our veteran population are serious and suicides among our veterans have reached epidemic levels.”
A former Marine, Justin Eldridge, of Waterford, killed himself during a standoff with police Monday night at his home. Eldridge, 31, who was the first commandant of the Thames River Detachment of the Marine Corps League in Quaker Hill, was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to his friends.
“Having someone at the local level that New Londoners can call and talk to, who not only can give them guidance in terms of where to go to get the services they need but also can actually relate to what they’re going through, is so important,” Finizio said. “And I think that having this type of a person serving the city is certainly fortunate for us, but it’s going to be very fortunate for veterans and it may, in fact, in the end save lives.”
The state mandated that cities and towns designate a veterans’ service contact person, who can go to an annual training course and help veterans get the services and benefits they have earned. Each municipality had to pick someone by Oct. 1. The bill Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed was one of several new initiatives designed to improve the lives of the state’s veterans and service members.
Pressler, 42, who lives in New London, served in the Marine Corps from 1989 to 2002 and deployed to Iraq in 1991 and 2002. He is studying communications at Mitchell College. He speaks Spanish and Arabic.
State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz has said her office needs someone in each municipality to call when there are changes in services that veterans need to know about. Most veterans are not using all of their benefits, she added.
“I think of it as a Connecticut safety net for veterans,” she said after Malloy signed the bill. “Just knowing someone to contact in your own town is an important step to getting what you need.”
The state department plans to hold trainings in each part of the state on the basics of how the federal and state systems work and how claims are processed. The veterans’ service contacts will learn how to connect veterans to the correct state or federal offices and help those who are not computer savvy print out the forms they need.
Finizio said he could foresee making the veterans’ liaison a paid position one day, but couldn’t do so now because of budget constraints. As a military community, he said, “we want to be ahead of the curve in how we treat our veterans, not behind it.”
Pressler can be reached at (860) 857-0189 or Dpressler@ci.new-london.ct.us.