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With open arms

This time, the Bay Area is determined to do well by its veterans. 

With the Dec. 31 deadline for pulling out of Iraq approaching, and the Afghanistan conflict winding down, more than two million combat veterans are beginning to make their way back home for good. And despite its long history of antiwar activity, our region is poised to be one of the more hospitable places in which to land.
     Last year, City College of San Francisco opened the first Veterans Affairs mental health clinic on a college campus—where many vets begin their transition to civilian life—and the patient list has been growing ever since. Chancellor Don Griffin, a psychologist, counseled vets after the Vietnam War and has seen firsthand how a hostile homecoming can keep the mental wounds of war from healing. This generation of soldiers, in particular, will be in desperate need of such services: More than one-third are coming home with PTSD, depression, anxiety, or problems caused by brain injuries.
     CC SF student Aundray Rogers, a 31-year-old army veteran who served in Iraq and Kosovo, sees a psychiatrist at the clinic twice a week. “I have panic attacks and anxiety, real bad, in class,” he says. “The material won’t stay in my head because my head’s full of all kinds of other things.”
     For proof that local attitudes toward vets like Rogers have changed, consider that this clinic is just one part of a new $400,000 veterans’ center funded entirely by private donations. Six of the San Francisco building trades unions volunteered their labor, Craig Newmark chipped in for the center’s stereo system and flat-screen TV, and World War II vets appealed to local businesses for donations.
     CC SF is being closely watched by VA and college officials across the country and may well become a model for other campuses, says Antonette Zeiss, a psychologist who heads up mental health services for the VA nationwide.
     “I grew up in California,” Zeiss says. “It’s not about whether you support the war or don’t. It’s about recognizing that these people have served our country, and it’s our responsibility to provide the care they need.”