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In his more than 25 years behind the bar at the Chicago Bridgeport Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5079 on the South Side, Michael Pryor has heard and seen plenty, including from vets unburdening their troubles. "We're like a family here," Pryor said. "I don't like to put any pressure on them (to talk). I just listen to what they're telling me."
And he considers the conversations to be confidential. "It's like a doctor-patient kind of relationship," Pryor said.
That aspect of bartending has been captured in movies and television shows over the years. It also is what prompted researchers from Ohio State University to zero in on VFW bartenders in a recent six-month study. Their findings, published in the Journal of Military Veterans Health, suggested that bartenders could play a role in helping to identify veterans who exhibit signs of mental distress.
In a previous study I looked at hairdressers and their ability to help their older clients," Anderson said. "We then immediately thought of bartenders — they're ... de facto counselors in a lot of ways, and then we kind of immediately thought of veterans at VFWs in particular because it serves a special clientele." Anderson said the study is not suggesting that bartenders be trained as social workers or counselors, but rather that they be taught to identify basic symptoms of mental health problems like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that are common among veterans.