GONZALES — Lawrence Salone understands the challenges soldiers face when they return home from war.

It wasn’t long ago when Salone was that soldier. He was one of the 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard’s 256 Brigade Combat Team that deployed in 2004 and returned in 2005.

The founder of the Post Trauma Institute of Louisiana, located on South Harrells Ferry Road in Baton Rouge, told the Ascension GOP Roundtable on Thursday about the adjustment he made after returning home from Iraq.

Salone recalled driving in the center of the road because he was afraid of improvised explosive devices and of being frightened to be around his children because he was afraid they would startle him.

In Iraq, Salone said, soldiers have four priorities each day: eat, sleep, execute their mission and stay alive. It’s a very structured lifestyle, and when they return home, sometimes they look elsewhere to replace that structure.

It’s part of the reason he left his job in pharmaceutical sales to start the Post Trauma Institute, which aims to help improve veterans’ mental health.

“I help people,” Salone said. “At the very core of who I am, I help people … and that’s something I take pride in.”

“They see things we couldn’t even begin to think,” said Joyce Lacour, president of the Ascension Parish Republican Women.

The Post Trauma Institute offers four layers of treatment for veterans: evaluation, education, rehabilitation and reintegration back into society.

Approximately 320,000 veterans live in Louisiana, and many of them suffer from various illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse.

“We give them the best opportunity to come and be functional, active members of society,” Salone said.

Dr. Larry Warner, a psychiatrist who works for the Post Trauma Institute, said the institute’s workers spend a lot of time trying to put the veterans into the right treatment setting.

“The No. 1 step is to properly diagnose a person,” he said. “Once you get the proper diagnosis, everything else falls in line.”

There are some legitimate concerns about the future of mental health care funding in the state, Salone said, but he believes what his business is providing plays an important role in helping ease soldiers back into day-to-day living.

“We’re an organization run by veterans to help veterans who are back home after war. ... We’re a solution; we’re not the solution,” he said.