SAN ANTONIO – James Pobanz spent 17 years in the U.S. Army. He got out in 2013 and changed his career field to social work to continue serving his country by helping veterans like himself.
“As more veterans, especially post-9/11 veterans, are going into the counseling field, whether it’s social work or professional counseling or psychology, I think we’re seeing an increase in the amount that want to be involved, or they can realize that they can bond with their fellow veterans in those same situations and help them so they can understand that they’ve been in the same place that they have,” Pobanz said.
With deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan himself, some find it easier to open up to Pobanz. In his opinion, post-traumatic stress disorder is more accepted and talked about in ways that were not there when the first soldiers returned home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But the social worker said he wanted to do more. He got several veteran friends with trucks involved in helping veterans in transition, finding them furniture and home goods.
Four years ago, the nonprofit VetStrong was created, and with it came an organic form of therapy.
“Some of these veterans are looking for that new identity. And they want to be able to do some work here in the U.S. that can help improve the community, give them a sense of self-worth and being able to help one another,” Pobanz said.
Pobanz said calls for connection are even more crucial recently after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. He said the aspects of mental health for veterans experiencing this is unchartered.
“Folks like myself that were deployed to Afghanistan and to Iraq in real-time can see a lot of work that they did and a lot of time they spent basically crumble right before their eyes. That’s going to have some type of significant impact for PTSD, for veterans’ mental health,” Pobanz said.
Pobanz says 9/11 changed many lives, including his, and the aftermath of the wars that followed.
VetStrong is growing. Other chapters in cities across Texas, Hawaii and Kansas City have launched.
According to a study released by Brown University in June 2021, more than 30,000 active duty and veterans of the post-9/11 wars have died by suicide compared to the more than 7,000 service members kill-ed in those war operations.