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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Opinion: Proactive Community Needed to Help Troops Reconnect, Reintegrate

From the Spring Grove [MN] Herald:

I am watching the growing furor over the shortcomings in the Veterans Administration system and the fallout from Walter Reed Army Hospital with growing alarm. I am concerned that we are going to fix the crisis and forget the problem.

The problem is how to help warriors, and their families, successfully reintegrate back into our communities, and their homes, after combat. A portion of that problem is health care related. For a majority of combat vets, however, only a small part of their reintegration challenge has to do with health care for physical injuries. Behavioral and mental health are bigger issues. And for most, the biggest challenge is relational: rebuilding marriages, reconnecting with children, rejoining friends, rejoining the global economy, getting back to the communities of faith we left, etc.

The problem with focusing on the VA is we may well fix the VA only to convince ourselves that the reintegration of our combat veterans is a government program, not a community process. If we expect the government to take care of everything, we will have failed our combat veterans and their families as well as ourselves.

We have sent our precious men and women to war. The VA can't bring them home. Only we can. We have a moral obligation to ensure that all of our combat veterans come all the way home to their families, their jobs, their schools and their communities.

A government program can't do that. A community can.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for suggestions...

Opinion piece included in full in the interest of education.

each of us needs to roll up our sleeves and do more than castigate the VA. It means the following:

If you are a health care provider in Minnesota, do the right thing: Become a Tricare provider. Tricare is the insurance the government issues to mobilized reservists and guardsmen.

Two-thirds of Minnesota health care providers are not Tricare providers. The result: We do not have an in-patient chemical dependency treatment center in Minnesota that is a Tricare provider. We have a dire shortage of behavioral mental health providers who are Tricare providers. The VA can't fix this ... we can.

If you are an educator, sign up for an Operation Military Kids workshop and learn about the daunting challenges our 7,000 Minnesota military kids face when their parent marches off to war, and when they return. Help our children while we are at war. Parent educators, we need you to offer classes in every school district in Minnesota, for military families. We need your help in learning how to parent our children again.

If you are a member of the clergy, learn all you can about the toll combat takes on marriages, families, mothers and fathers of military personnel. You don't have to support the foreign policy to pray for us while we are in harm's way and to visit our parents, our spouses and our children while we are gone. When we come home, we need your help in putting our marriages, families and lives back together.

If you are an employer, please give my spouse some grace. She or he is juggling a job, a family, a home and a huge heartache. There are no laws to protect them while we are at war, as there are to protect my job when I come back. They struggle mightily and may need some special attention and some extra time off. Do the right thing - help them.

If you are a social service provider, learn all you can about combat operational stress, the challenges of reintegration for combat veterans and the impact of war on the family system. You are our "first call for help;" don't fail us because you choose not to invest in your professional development.

If you are a politician, don't politicize the shortfalls in the VA or the military medical system. We aren't pawns in an election cycle; we are your constituents, and we are counting on you to fix the problems. Energize the community on our behalf to do right by us. We're not asking for showy programs. We are asking for tangible signs of support in terms of services offered.

If you are our neighbors, and you are, don't "victimize" us. Most combat veterans come home without PTSD, mental disorders, physical wounds or destroyed lives. We generally readjust well and go on to live productive lives. Expect great contributions to society from us. We won't disappoint you. Challenge us to greatness; we know how to serve.

Watch over our families while we are gone. Extend a warm welcome home when we return. Walk with us through the months of readjustment, and make a place for us in the community. If we are among the tragic few who come home physically or mentally wounded, help us by connecting us to local, county, state and federal resources.

Certainly, address the problems with the VA, the military medical system and other systemic issues that face us. But, above all ... bring us all the way home.

A program can't do that. You can.

Major John Morris is a chaplain in the Minnesota Army National Guard. For more information about his and others' ground-breaking work on reintegrating returning soldiers, go to and look for the "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" link.

This is great advice for us all.

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