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"Words of War" Fundraiser Supports Mental Health Care for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Event Helps Fund Free Treatment Delivered at Weill Cornell Medical College

With hundreds of thousands of veterans who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq returning home with post traumatic stress disorder, Weill Cornell Medical College and the Headstrong Project are leading the charge to help them recover from the hidden wounds of war.

Jake Gyllenhaal addresses more than 500 people who came to the Headstrong Project's "Words of War" fundraiser May 8
Photo credit: Getty Images for The Headstrong Project

The Headstrong Project, working in collaboration with Weill Cornell's Department of Public Health, offers free and confidential treatment for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans with PTSD from metropolitan New York and the Tri-State area. Comprehensive mental health care is delivered by clinical faculty and staff of the Weill Cornell Department of Public Health's Midtown Center for Treatment and Research.

To support these critical services, the Headstrong Project organized the "Words of War" fundraiser May 8 to raise awareness and resources to combat the hidden wounds of war. Joined by actor Jake Gyllenhaal, more than 500 people, including Weill Cornell faculty and physicians from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, veterans and representatives from veterans' service organizations, raised $300,000 to fund vital health care services that treat PTSD — with Weill Cornell the primary recipient.

More than 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans report symptoms of PTSD. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs estimates we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide, while the Department of Defense reports 30 to50 active duty troops take their lives every month.

Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder are at particular risk. It has been estimated that for every troop lost in combat this year, 25 to 30 take their own lives. These numbers also do not reflect increases in dangerous and destructive behavior, such as increases in domestic abuse, substance abuse and even motorcycle accidents. What's more, there is no comprehensive treatment program to help this population.

Headstrong Project CEO Zach Iscol, left, Medical Director Dr. Ann Beeder and Program Director Gerard Ilaria at the "Words of War" fundraiser
Photo credit: Chris Johnson

That's what led Zach Iscol, a Cornell alumnus and a combat decorated former officer in the Marines Corps who served two tours in Iraq and on other assignments overseas, to establish the Headstrong Project. Iscol is the son of longtime Weill Cornell benefactor Jill Iscol.

The Headstrong Project, for which Iscol serves as CEO, brings together leading research scientists and clinicians in PTSD to develop individually tailored treatment plans for veterans, as well as developing training curricula for veterans to be help them identify PTSD in their peers and link them to care.

Iscol invited Dr. Ann Beeder to be medical director of the Headstrong Project. She is chief of Division of Community and Public Health Programs at Weill Cornell Department of Public Health and the Jeanette and Jeffrey Lasdon Associate Professor of Clinical Public Health and Psychiatry. Dr. Beeder is also medical director of the Midtown Center for Treatment and Research, Weill Cornell's Employee Assistance Program Consortium and the Vincent P. Dole Treatment and Research Institute for Opiate Dependency at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Iscol and Dr. Beeder appointed social worker Gerard Ilaria to be program director of Headstrong Project. Ilaria is department administrator of the Weill Cornell Department of Public Health.

The May 8 event featured poetry written and read by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans Gerardo Mena and Garrett Anderson, as well as a performance of Theater of War by the company Outside the Wire. Gyllenhaal read a poem by a World War I veteran and initiated an auction by making a donation. The evening also benefitted Team Rubicon, Student Veterans of America and Team Red, White & Blue. Additional partners include Google, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pixel Corps and Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, L.P.

For more information on the Weill Cornell Program for Combat Veterans with PTSD, please see http://weill.cornell.edu/publichealth/patient_care/veterans_ptsd.html.

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