Guard, families prepare for soldiers’ return from war

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(Host) The first group of Vermont Guard members returns this month from Iraq. Officials with the Guard and the state are gearing up to help the soldiers and their families deal with a variety of mental health issues associated with combat.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, they face a number of significant challenges.

(Zind) At a brainstorming session with representatives from state agencies, community mental services and the Guard, Vermont Adjutant General Martha Rainville made it clear that the returning soldiers are going to need some help.

(Rainville) “This group has been in Iraq for a year. And they’ve been in the middle of everything that’s been going on, so they’ve had a tough time. This is the group that’s lost the four soldiers. They’ve had a number of wounded. So they’ve really been through it.”

(Zind) Although it’s not yet clear to what degree returning guardsmen will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, depression, substance abuse and other disorders, the adjustment to civilian life will be difficult for some. John Coffin is the director of Outpatient Adult Services at the Howard Center and a dolonel in the Guard.

(Coffin) “Some of these guys coming home – a month ago they were on high speed, high powered, high velocity, high weaponed missions smashing through everything that moves to get their mission accomplished. Try to imagine them coming home and driving a bread truck.”

(Zind) Coffin says it’s going to be a challenge to mobilize the resources to treat the soldiers. Many times, people suffering from combat related disorders are unwilling to seek help. And for those who do, there’s a limited number of mental health professionals with specialized training to treat them. That’s going to be an increasingly significant problem as more of the roughly 1,400 Vermont guard members deployed return home.

Among the ideas the group discussed was establishing a network of fellow guard members to fan out around the state checking up on returning soldiers. Coffin says there’s already a need for that. Five months ago about 100 guardsmen returned from Afghanistan and officials are now seeing an increasing number of problems.

(Coffin) “Some of the guys won’t come back to the unit. They won’t come back to drill. There are more than I’m comfortable with in that status. We’ve got nobody to go out and see them. I would like to go out and knock on their door.”

(Zind) Because combat related disorders can affect entire families, officials say it’s important that there be a coordinated effort by schools, community mental health, and Veterans and state agencies. Guard officials say they’re also focusing on prevention by providing counseling and debriefings for returning soldiers and their families.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

Related information:
The Vermont Family Readiness program has more information on services available to guard members and their families. The program can be reached toll-free at (888) 607-8773 or online at Family Readiness

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