HUGHESVILLE, Md.—Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) is launching a new program called Patriot Connect to help veterans and active military personnel who may be having a difficult time transitioning back into the community.
As reports in the media indicate, the high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among returning military personnel has been at the root of an increased number of suicides. Nationally, as many as 22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"For returning vets who may be unable to cope, dealing with a termination notice from SMECO could be the last straw," said Austin J. Slater, Jr., SMECO president and CEO. "If we can help prevent just one tragic death by reaching out to the men and women who have served our country, then this program will have been worthwhile."
For starters, SMECO's customer service personnel will be empowered to waive the service application fee and deposit for new customers, or grant a payment extension to existing customers, for veterans or active military personnel in need of assistance. Beyond that support, customers will be directed to work with Tami Gardiner, SMECO's Credit and Collections Director. According to Gardiner, "We've been contacting local agencies that provide services to veterans and military personnel, as well as organizations that provide funds to support veterans, and they have been enthusiastic about SMECO's new initiative. We are reaching out to agencies because they can promote this program to the people who need it."
Gardiner continued, "Our goal is to help someone who is suffering from a stress disorder get one step closer to a normal life. But, I've learned that many people with a military background are reluctant to ask for help. Friends and family members may know someone who needs assistance, and they can help by making eligible customers aware of SMECO's Patriot Connect program."
Slater added, "By making it easier for people with PTSD, combat stress, or related trauma to accomplish everyday tasks, we hope to help customer-members-people who have risked their lives in service to our country-with reintegrating into the community."