Chanel Burke Santiago Advocates for Military Veterans Through a VA Vet Center

Posted by Monica Hoel
Chanel Burke Santiago is doing impactful work for Veterans, and it is very personal for her.

Chanel is a Veteran Outreach Program Specialist for the Vet Center in Norristown, Pennsylvania. There are 300 Vet Centers across the country along with 81 mobile units, and even though they are a service of the Veterans Administration (VA), they are intentionally operated separately from the VA Hospitals because of the nature of their work. Their mission is to help anyone who has been in military service work through any and all mental health needs. Chanel’s job is to make sure people know about their services.

Vet Centers are a unique service of the VA, established in 1977 by Vietnam Veterans who realized they needed help processing things after returning home. “They started as a peer-to-peer organization –helping each other with drinking and drug problems, that sort of thing.” They didn’t always feel welcomed at the traditional VA Hospital, so there was a conscious decision to set these centers up in separate locations.

This also allows clients who use the Vet Center services to have a level of anonymity. Military personnel worry about the stigma attached to reaching out for mental health support, so they prefer for it not to be known that they’re getting help. Vet Centers make a point of being open non-traditional hours to make it easier for Veterans to get there. Family members can also use the service.

Chanel says things are different now for Veterans seeking help. “Vietnam veterans changed the VA health system – we don’t have the same barriers they had.”

This is especially ironic for Chanel, because it was a Vietnam Vet who got her the help she needed for her own PTSD. She is a Veteran of the Iraq war. Soon after 9-11, she was called to serve overseas in Iraq while still a student at Emory & Henry. When she returned to finish college, she felt like everything had changed…she had changed, but she didn’t understand why. Years later she encountered a Vietnam Vet who sized her up, told her she needed help, and took her to a nearby Vet Center to get her started with therapy. “I didn’t think I had PTSD, but they asked me about some of the key signs – nightmares, hypervigilance, tremors – and I realized all those things were happening to me.”

Now that she understands what is going on with her mental health, she knows how to deal with the challenges and triggers that might affect her. “People think that if someone has PTSD you can’t predict what their behavior will be. I might have a bad day, but I know how to deal with it, I work through it, and I’ll have a better day tomorrow. People would never look at me and think I have PTSD.”

On the Duck Pond Wall podcast, you can enjoy a fascinating conversation with Chanel about the good work of Vet Centers, her own time in the military, and how surprised she was to see other E&H students when she was called to active duty.

  • Chanel Burke Santiago
    Emory & Henry Class of 2004

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  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/519-dogs-best-friend"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.JPG 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.JPG 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.JPG" alt="One of the adoptable dogs found at BARK." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.JPG 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2400,3200/4527_IMG-9834.rev.1536347287.JPG 3x" data-max-w="2400" data-max-h="3200" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/519-dogs-best-friend">Dog’s Best Friend</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> David “Skip” Harless shows up day after day to make sure the dogs of BARK feel loved. <a href="/live/news/519-dogs-best-friend" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1554-amanda-gravatt-porter-is-the-coo-for-girl-scouts"><img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,56,744,800/9085_Amanda_Porter.jfif" alt=" Amanda Gravatt Porter, Emory & Henry Class of 1997. " class="lw_image" width="345" height="225"/></a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1554-amanda-gravatt-porter-is-the-coo-for-girl-scouts">Amanda Gravatt Porter is the COO for Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> If you’ve ever been involved with Girl Scouts, you probably thought a troop of 8 was a lot to handle. But imagine being responsible for 10,000 Girl Scouts. <a href="/live/news/1554-amanda-gravatt-porter-is-the-coo-for-girl-scouts" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>