New South Jersey Vet Center can be all the difference for struggling veterans

About a third of all combat veterans coming back from war have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the stigma surrounding help can be just as troubling.

It’s one of the reasons behind a new Vet Center in Egg Harbor Township.

South Jersey Vet Center opens in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

South Jersey Vet Center opens in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

The doors and hallways may look like those of a traditional medical center, but for Stardust Santiago, they mean much more. A second chance at life.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing. I couldn’t really make heads or tails of my childcare schedule, my kids, my life, my job,” Santiago said.

She came to the South Jersey Vet Center when transitioning out of the military because of a medical injury after deployment. It wasn’t easy.

Kevin Priest can relate.

“It’s like this invisible barrier that you cannot get through to go get help and then, all of a sudden, you have people reaching through your barrier and pulling you out,” Priest explained.

Amazing strides they got to celebrate Saturday at a ceremony honoring the 40th anniversary of Vet Centers opening and for the new South Jersey Vet Center in Egg Harbor Township, moving from Ventnor City. It opened a few months ago.

For Priest, at just the right time.

“It definitely saved me because I was in a bad spot. But, these people are here. They’re here for you,” Priest said.

“There is still a lot of stigma on coming to a mental health facility and getting outpatient care, so we try to be as warm and welcoming as possible,” Kristin Brown, Director of South Jersey Vet Center, said.

Part of Saturday’s event included an open house for vets and their families to get a glimpse of that and see why these centers are crucial. And, to meet folks like Santiago with a message.

“Take that step to be a better person or a better version of yourself because the services can do that, if you’re open to the recovery process,” Santiago explained.

To ensure that veterans across South Jersey can have access to the care and treatment, state leaders say they are in the process of finalizing a center in Cape May County. That’s expected to be open this time next year.