WESTFIELD, NJ — Youth and Family Counseling Service in Westfield has launched a new program that offers military personnel and their families low-cost mental health care.

Bravest First was conceived by Carol Pedro, a licensed professional counselor and executive director of YFCS, who was disturbed by news reports of servicemen unable to get treatment for mental illness, some of whom eventually took their own lives.

“What we tend to hear as lay-people is PTSD and suicide, but there are many other issues” that members of the military face, said Pedro.

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Through Bravest First, active and inactive military members can seek help for substance abuse as well as career counseling, couples therapy, balancing military work and family and help readjusting to civilian life. Children of military parents are also welcome.

The program will accept insurance plans and is willing to work with those who do not have sufficient coverage or who are unable to afford co-pays. Free counseling is available if needed.

“If you are discharged from the military in a certain way … you may not have benefits,” Pedro said. “We would hope, and we would think that if you’ve served this country you would be 100 percent covered, but that’s not the case.”

Pedro noted that the intake process for Bravest First is simple.

“That cuts through all the red tape, all the waiting lists,” she said. “That’s part of the plan, to eliminate the barriers to getting treatment.”

Both active and inactive servicemen and women can be at risk for mental illness. According to YFCS, the U.S. Army referred more than 24,000 soldiers for substance abuse counseling in 2011. The suicide rate among veterans is higher than the national average, and more than 1.3 million veterans have received mental health treatment.

The program was rolled out in late February and already has several clients. Pedro has partnered with Bonds of Courage and the Westfield National Guard Armory, which draws active duty members from around the state.

Pedro will bring in Dr. Cynthia Lischick, the 5th Brigade Psychological Health Coordinator from the Joint Military and Family Assistance Center in Bordentown, to train several counselors and clinical social workers to treat clients at Bravest First.

YFCS is supported by the Westfield United Fund, Westfield Service League and the Westfield Foundation. It is located at 233 Prospect Street.

To learn more or to enroll in Bravest First, call YFCS at 908-233-2042.