Sunday, February 17, 2008

Vets face a "daunting & growing" problem

The Billings Gazette reports that Montana Sen. Jon Tester will accompany the new secretary of Veterans Affairs to Billings and Helena on Feb. 20. Tester, a Democrat elected in 2006, invited James Peake to Montana late last year to see firsthand the issues affecting Montana veterans. As is the case everywhere, Montana vets are facing a long list of mental health problems after long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Peake and Tester will hold a public town hall meeting for veterans at the Hilton Garden Inn in Billings at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20. Peake also will tour the Billings VA Clinic. He and Tester will travel to Helena where they'll hold a round-table discussion at 2:30 p.m.

Too bad Peake can’t travel south to Wyoming while he’s in the neighborhood. Perhaps one of our esteemed senators, both Iraq War supporters and Republicans who presumably have close personal relationships with Bush appointees, can do some inviting of their own. Tester’s an opponent of the war, and a newbie to boot. Look what he’s been able to accomplish.

I’m not a veteran, but I do have some expertise on mental health issues both personally, in my own family, and as a governor-appointed member of the Wyoming Mental Health Planning Council. I’ve also been board chair of UPLIFT, the Wyoming affiliate of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.

Larry D. Barttelbort, executive director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, sent out this press release about a program in the state aimed at addressing veterans’ mental health:

A joint venture pilot program between the Wyoming Military Department, Wyoming Veterans Commission, and the Wyoming Department of Health will ensure Wyoming Veterans are connected with state and federal resources. This pilot program is based on a recommendation from Wyoming's Veterans Mental Health Task Force. We have combined end-of-biennium funds to hire two contract Veteran's Advocates. They will link our Wyoming Veterans, their families, and their employers directly with state and federal resources. We will use Wyoming Military Department federal resources to assist with scheduling, data collection and reporting.

This program will help Veterans overcome the stigma of seeking help and help them connect with these wonderful resources. The advocates will meet with the Veteran, the family, and the employer to ensure the Veteran is using all the resources available to them.

Wyoming is also blessed with two of the finest VA Medical Centers in the U.S., at Sheridan and Cheyenne. The VA's Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) in Casper, Gillette, Green River, Newcastle, Powell, Riverton and Rock Springs provide outstanding care. The Vet Centers in Cheyenne and Casper provide confidential mental health counseling and also provide contract services in some outlying areas.

If you are approached about a Wyoming Veteran experiencing problems with readjustment issues at home, with friends, or at work don't hesitate to call one of our advocates or the VA resources.

Veteran's Advocates:
Leon Chamberlain (307) 359-2430 (Northern Wyoming)
David Hall (307) 631-3736 (Southern Wyoming)
VA Health Information 1-877-222-8387

FMI: Larry D. Barttelbort, 307-772-5016

Veterans for America recently released a study of soldiers based at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. You can read the full report at Here are a few paragraphs from the introduction:

A new, in-depth investigative report released by Veterans for America, documents the toll of repeated, lengthy, and unpredictable deployments on Soldiers stationed at Fort Drum, New York, raising powerful questions about the sustainability of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over the past decade, Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division has been one of the Army’s most heavily deployed divisions. Since September 11, 2001, Fort Drum’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is the most deployed brigade in the Army – with more than 40 months logged away from home in that time.

VFA’s new report highlights the lack of treatment available to combat soldiers and presents potential solutions to what the Pentagon acknowledges is a "daunting and growing" problem.

"Sooner or later, and likely sooner, we’re going to hit the wall and something will have to change," said Bobby Muller, VFA’s founder. "Simple morality and decency demand a change. We cannot continue taking such gross advantage of those who have offered themselves in service to our country."

On their latest Iraq tour, members of the 2nd BCT were more than five times more likely to have been killed than others who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and more than four times as likely to have been wounded. In all, the 2nd BCT has been deployed four times. Pentagon studies have found that a soldier’s chance of developing mental health problems increases 60 percent upon each deployment.

"Soldiers at Fort Drum have been repeatedly exposed to high intensity combat. Mental health resources must match this level of sacrifice," said Jason W. Forrester, one of the report authors.

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