Returning Guard members face PTSD

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(Host) As hundreds of members of the Vermont National Guard get ready for deployment overseas, Guard officials are preparing to help them when they return.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports that it’s likely some Guard members will have a difficult time readjusting.

(Zind) By any measure the current mobilization of Vermont Army National Guard members is unprecedented. By the end of this month more than 700 Guard members will leave for duty overseas; some will go to Iraq. It will be the Vermont Guard’s largest and longest deployment since World War II.

Guard spokeswoman Lieutenant Veronica Saffo says the Guard has been preparing for difficulties they’ll face when they return – readjusting to civilian life. Recently a group of Vermont Guard members returned from Afghanistan.

(Saffo) “One of the biggest issues for soldiers readjusting is the change of pace. When you’re deployed, mission is number one and you’re constantly busy and you’re constantly being tasked. Reintegrating with children is another thing that comes up.”

(Zind) Saffo says none of the returning Guard members have experienced any serious problems.

But it could be a different story for those returning from Iraq. Doctor Matthew Friedman directs the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based at the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder. It’s the result of experiencing a life-threatening event and it’s often compounded by depression and substance abuse.

Friedman says because Guard members and reservists aren’t as fully integrated into military life, they’re more susceptible to the psychological effects of warfare. He says this was documented in studies done after the first Gulf War.

(Friedman) “When you compared the Guard and Reserve units with the active duty people, that indeed the prevalence of PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders was higher in the guard and reserve.”

(Zind) Friedman says it’s too early to tell how many Guard members and reservists returning from Iraq will experience psychological problems. But he believes that because of the nature of the fighting many will have difficulties.

(Friedman) “Yes, I do believe that because of the way the war has changed, the likelihood of people being exposed to these kinds of traumatic episodes that might precipitate PTSD or depression or alcoholism or some other kind of clinical problem is greater, yes.”

(Zind) Veronica Saffo says the Guard has been preparing to help members returning from Iraq to deal with these problems. Saffo says even before they arrive in Vermont, they’ll get counseling on what to expect as they return to their families and jobs. Their families will also be advised on how to help in the readjustment.

(Saffo) “These are things that have been developed for the last couple of years and they’ve really put a lot of time and energy and investment into training folk so that they’re available to do all of this.”

(Zind) Saffo says health care provided to returning Guard members will also cover treatment expenses for members who need it. Matthew Friedman of the Center for PTSD says the military needs to do more to encourage people to seek treatment without fear that their careers will be hurt. Friedman says there are effective treatments for PTSD.

200 members of the Vermont guard have been in Iraq since early this year. They’re expected to return in April.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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