Vermont leads the nation in helping veterans

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(Host) Vermont has suffered the highest proportion of casualties from the Iraq War of any state. But it leads the nation in helping service members when they come home.

Tanya Snyder reports from Washington.

(Snyder) Lieutenant Colonel John Boyd leads the veterans’ outreach program in Vermont. Since 9/11, more than 2,800 Vermont Guardsman and reservists have served in Iraq. Boyd says state officials faced some special challenges in getting those returning vets the care they needed.

(Boyd) "National Guard and reserve service members particularly in states such as Vermont, which are rural and do not have any active duty military installations, can experience challenges with awareness of and access to mental health and other benefits when they return from deployment."

(Snyder) Senator Bernie Sanders said at a Veterans’ Committee hearing that healing veterans means also reaching out to their families.

(Sanders) "I think we all understand that we’re talking about family problems, it’s not just the individual and the point that Col. Boyd has made is that in Vermont we’re trying to reach out to wives and kids as well."

(Snyder) Major Cynthia Rasmussen agreed, saying that vets from earlier wars could have used this kind of help. She said that in combat situations, soldiers are taught to suspect everyone and everything, and that when they come home, they often have trouble learning to trust again. She remembers going out to dinner with other veterans, and they all felt the need to watch their backs.

(Rasmussen) "We couldn’t find a wall big enough in the restaurant for everyone to sit with their backs against the wall so they could monitor everyone who came in and out."

(Snyder) Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller said veterans’ care was one of the top issues in Congress right now, making up for years of neglect.

(Rockfeller) "Because it’s like we’ve suddenly rediscovered you – our own guilt, our own mistake."

(Snyder) Col. Boyd said that in Vermont, veterans serve as caseworkers to help other, newly returned vets, and that they meet face to face in their own homes, where they are more likely to open up than in a military facility.

From Capitol News Connection, I’m Tanya Snyder for VPR News.

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