Services in place to help soldiers returning from Iraq

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(Host) Any day now, about four hundred members of the Vermont National Guard will return to the United States after a long deployment in Iraq.

The soldiers are part of Task Force Saber which shipped out at the beginning of last year.

The group represents nearly all of the remaining Vermont guard members deployed in the war.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, a network of services has been put in place to help them readjust to civilian life.

(Zind) Friday morning, John Coffin will board a plane for Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Coffin is a psychologist in the Vermont National Guard. He’ll be waiting when members of Vermont guard touch down in Mississippi.

(Coffin) “I can tell you, one of the most emotional moments of my life is standing at the bottom of the stairs of the plane when these gus come back and kiss the ground and kiss me and kiss anybody available.”

(Zind) Thursday, Coffin joined officials with the Vermont National Guard, the Veterans Administration and the state as they gathered at Norwich University in Northfield to prepare to for the returning guard members.

Travis Jones is an outreach counselor for Vermont’s two veteran’s centers. Jones says a large number of Vermont soldiers who’ve already come back from the war have sought counseling.

In most cases their problems fall short of the more serious condition known as PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Often soldiers experience difficulties sleeping, interacting with other people and returning to work. They seek out a vet center counselor like Jones.

(Jones) “A lot of times, the first couple of sessions, veterans are just letting everything out, that whole twelve to eighteen month period that they’ve been gone, just letting it all out because they’ve had no time and no place to go to just unwind.”

(Zind) Jones says difficulties adjusting to civilian life can become more severe without treatment.

The process of helping the returning members of Task Force Saber has already begun. John Coffin has been communicating by email with several members of the task force while they’re still in Iraq, discussing how the reentry process will begin when the soldiers land at Camp Shelby.

Coffin says one of the approaches counselors will use as they talk to soldiers during their first days back home is a technique called “reframing.”

It’s a way of getting soldiers to see their experiences in a more constructive light.

(Coffin) ” of turning a horrifying, terrifying, oppressive experience into something that’s a positive they can’t imagine going back to the job of driving a bread truck. We try to tell them, ‘good, it may be that you don’t want to drive a bread truck for the rest of your life. You’re looking at the world through a different set of eyes now. You’ve got another chance to have the rest of your life’.”

(Zind) Coffin says in coming months counselors hope to expand outreach services for returning vets so they can go out into Vermont communities and contact soldiers who need counseling but are reluctant to seek it out.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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