Sanders wants more federal funding to help returning soldiers

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(Host) Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wants more federal money to help soldiers cope with the aftermath of war.

Sanders and Adjutant General Michael Dubie say Vermont has an innovative program. Officials make sure that each service member who has returned from overseas is contacted.

Sanders and Dubie are hoping the program can serve as a model for a national outreach effort.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Vermont National Guard and The Department of Veterans Affairs work together to reach out to soldiers coming back from the war zone.

Adjutant General Michael Dubie says the program is effective because it reaches people away from the clinical setting of a doctor’s office or VA center.

(Dubie) “Vermonters are a proud people. Sometimes Vermonters don’t ask for help if they need it. The idea of an outreach program gets people knocking on doors, it gets them in their own environment, it talks to family, it asks a series of questions. But the biggest question is how you doing?”

(Dillon) About 2,500 service members with the Vermont Air and Army National Guard have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Andrew Pomerantz is a psychiatrist with the VA Medical Center in White River Junction. He says the VA has seen about 600 returning soldiers from all branches of the service, including the National Guard.

He says about half have shown symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The condition is a psychological reaction to the stress of combat or trauma. It’s characterized by anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability or severe nightmares.

(Pomerantz) “Most people are okay. Everybody goes through a readjustment period when they come home. But they at least need a safe place to be, so we’ve been able to provide that. We’ve been able to provide treatment when indicated. I think there are still probably some people out there who could use treatment and I think eventually with the outreach program, they’ll be able to get some.”

(Dillon) General Dubie was reluctant to discuss how many returning guard members may have PTSD. He says he’s more interested in removing the stigma that some vets may feel.

(Dubie) “What we tell our people if they have PTSD or if they have symptoms that resemble what could be considered to be PTSD, go get some help. Because what we want to do is everyone to come back to be members of our unit, contributing to the state and federal mission. That’s what want them to do.”

(Dillon) Sanders is working to get $30 million in the defense authorization bill for a national program based on the Vermont outreach mode.

(Sanders) “It seems that we have the absolute moral responsibility to make sure that when our soldiers, when they return home from a very difficult tour of duty, that they and their families get all of the care that they need.”

(Dillon) Sanders says his legislation puts a special emphasis on personal contact with veterans and their families. He says that’s what has made the program effective in Vermont.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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