Guard Outreach Program Receives Short-Term Reprieve

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(Host) Vermont National Guard officials say an important family outreach program that was scheduled to run out of money next month has received a short term reprieve.  

The Guard learned last week that additional federal funds have been allocated to help the program continue for a while longer, but its long term future is doubtful.

VPR’s Steve Zind has the story.

(Zind) Retired staff sergeant Scott Carruthers served as an Army medic in Iraq four years ago.  The injuries he received during his deployment have left him blind. So from his home in Eden to his weekly appointments at the VA Hospital in White River, Carruthers is dependent on rides provided by the Vermont Guard family outreach program.

(Carruthers) "Very dependent.  The VA says because of my needs this is the only place they can see me."

(Zind) This month, Carruthers was awarded a Purple Heart.  He also learned he’d soon have to find his own way to the VA Hospital because the outreach program was out of money.

The program was started a number of years ago, initially with a state allocation.  Last summer Adjutant General Michael Dubie and Senator Bernie Sanders announced that another $2.4 million in federal funds would allow the program to continue. 

But that money is almost gone and because of the budget battle in Washington it’s unlikely there will be funding to continue it long term. 

Dubie says the program provides some important services.

(Dubie) "We have our veterans outreach specialists that are dealing with people with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, with substance abuse issues, with financial issues, with helping them to get their disability benefits, marital issues. They do a lot of things that our people need to be done."

(Zind) Dubie got word last week that the program will receive another $450,000 to allow it to continue to operate for a while longer.

He says this would have been a bad time to cut services.  Usually there’s a honeymoon period at the end of a deployment.  Problems begin appearing 60 to 90 days after a soldier returns from a deployment.  For the Vermonters who’ve come back from Afghanistan, that’s right about now.

The additional money means Purple Heart recipient Scott Carruthers will continue to get rides to his VA Hospital appointments in coming months.  But it’s likely Carruthers will still have to get to those appointments on his own after that money runs out.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.

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