Combat-altered soldiers — and the local economy — could benefit as Saranac Lake embraces its reputation for healing and medical research.

A grassroots effort continues to create Patriot Hills of Saranac Lake, a destination where injured and traumatized military personnel and their families can come for help and healing.

Saranac Lake became the global leader in the treatment of tuberculosis patients in the early 1900s, and it is that type of notoriety that Patriot Hills organizers want to see re-emerge in the care of returning soldiers, veterans and their families.

SANCTUARY NEEDED

Statistics collected by the Rand Corp. and shared by the group show that 40 percent of the troops returning from the Middle East have post-traumatic-stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury or some other mental, emotional or psychological problems.

"We want to create a sanctuary for them to come to again and again," said Susan Water, the executive director of the program.

She recently spoke to Franklin County legislators and won support for their ideas and for finding a site for a headquarters for the proposed $30 million center.

MORE FUNDS SOUGHT

The group has $25,000 pledges from both the WEMGO Foundation and the Grandison Foundation and sponsorship from New York's U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have asked for almost $6 million to be earmarked in the federal defense budget.

The organization is increasing its fundraising efforts, seeking additional corporate sponsors, as well as financial help from service clubs, civic organizations, military groups and government leaders.

The Patriot Hills committee is hopeful for funding, since Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has vowed repeatedly to improve the treatment and medical care for every American wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SUPPORTIVE CARE

Waters said the communities of Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Lake Placid have long-held, proud traditions that could be tapped for these families and individuals.

"This is a great opportunity for people to plug into something that is valuable and meaningful for themselves," she said.

Returning military members would be offered support services and programs, including marriage and grief counseling, suicide prevention, anger management, leadership training, vocational training, job placement and more.

In addition to helping the service members rejoin society, adjust to civilian life and reconnect with their families, there would be partnerships in place for long-term counseling services, drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation facilities, colleges, veterans organizations and others to assist them along the way.

The center would also offer training and research facilities for holistic treatments.

ECONOMIC BONUS

"This model is an opportunity to give great assistance to families without pharmaceutical intervention," said Robert Ross, chief executive officer at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center and chairman of the group's Steering Committee.

He said that developing Patriot Hills could trigger an economic boost in the region as federal dollars flow.

And state-of-the-art research facilities, much like Trudeau Institute, might also be recruited to settle their home base in the Adirondacks, Ross said.

E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: draymo@pressrepublican.com

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