Struggling veteran finds hope at clinic

For Veterans Day, we want to share the story of a veteran who is a client at our Behavioral Clinic at the Institute for the Hispanic Family in Hartford. The clinic offers help through sessions with licensed clinicians and peer support specialists, who offer unique help with clients because they have been down similar paths as those now seeking recovery. One of those peer support specialists is Harold Grimes, who served six years in the U.S. Navy, including time on the aircraft carrier USS Independence. Here is Harold’s story about Andy Litrenta:

Veterans in general can be very wary of non-veteran clinicians and programs, so to ease the stress for a client referred by the Veterans Affairs department, they call me first. We set up a meeting to go over the initial intake paperwork and schedule a first appointment, which eases their minds and allows me to inform the clinician who will work with them about any issues that may come up.

Andy Litrenta

I received a call in July from a veteran named Andy and we met a few days later to fill out his paperwork. Andy was sullen and seemed troubled. He had suffered trauma as a child, as well as during his time in the military, and spent much of his life angry at the world, which caused major problems at home and at work. In addition to peer support sessions with me, he agreed to one-on-one time with a clinician, who I had told that Andy’s case would be difficult. Lisa, the clinician, agreed with my assessment after their initial intake meeting and added Andy to her client list.

During tough first sessions with his clinician and myself, Andy said he felt this was his last shot at turning his life around and we knew he would be a challenge. But at his next session the following week, we noticed a change in Andy’s demeanor. Then during the third week, Lisa brought Andy to my office and asked if I noticed anything different about him. Absolutely, I said. I could see his eyes for the first time because he never looked at us during the previous meetings. So I used this opportunity to suggest he remember how he felt at that exact moment the next time he struggles so he can understand that a setback is only temporary.

Andy has been with us a few months and has made tremendous progress. He gets along with others better and handles difficult situations without becoming angry, his attitude at home has changed, and he constantly smiles, which he said is completely new for him. His relationships at home still aren’t perfect but he realizes that working on himself is a priority. 

He admits that after the first sessions, he thought about not returning but was always reminded of something Lisa or I discussed during our sessions that gave him the strength to continue. At first, his goal was to improve his home and work life. Then he felt his attitude shift and he started to focus on himself. Now he attends our sessions because he feels the therapy and peer support have been the perfect combination to help him progress.

That first meeting, Andy says, wasn’t what he expected of “mental health professionals.” At first he was surprised and unsure of me — a veteran with hair tinted green and rainbow-colored glasses — but by the time we finished his intake paperwork, he knew visiting the IHF clinic was going to be a positive experience. It’s a place that has given him hope.