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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Minnesota Holds Its First-Ever Combat Stress Conference; Warrior to Citizen Campaign Editorial

Over the past two years, I've been following Minnesota's top notch efforts on behalf of its military families and returning troops (see related posts below). The state and its communities have been proactive to the nth degree in offering these important members of society the support that they need to deal with deployments -- and the readjustment period that follows.

With all the good work coming out of Minnesota, it's not surprising to see their latest move. On October 17th they will be convening a conference featuring Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of the indispensable book, On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society.


To address the behavioral health care needs of the thousands of Minnesota National Guard members throughout the state, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross), along with TriWest Healthcare Alliance and the Minneapolis VA Medical Center (VAMC), is hosting the first-ever Combat Stress Conference.

The Minnesota National Guard consists of more than 13,000 members who live in nearly every corner of the state. Since 2001, more than 80 percent of the members have been mobilized for active duty, serving in 33 different countries. In addition, nearly 2,600 Minnesota National Guard members completed their deployments to Iraq and returned home in August.

Nearly 350 community-based physicians, nurses, psychiatrists and other health care professionals that care for the troops have been invited to attend the conference on Oct. 17, 2007 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is intended to help providers identify deployment-related symptoms such as combat stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury, as well as providing treatment methods.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


"Health care professionals need to understand the unique health care needs a veteran brings to them," said Chaplain Lt. Col. John J. Morris, Minnesota National Guard. "For example, a veteran may be depressed, experiencing nightmares and flashbacks, or have difficulty concentrating. We are asking providers to learn how to recognize the signs of combat stress and address those issues when they are treating a combat veteran."

"The onset of emotional or mental health symptoms is unpredictable. Symptoms can manifest immediately or take months or years," said Dr. Melissa Polusny, psychologist with the post-traumatic stress disorder recovery program at the Minneapolis VAMC. "Giving providers information about clinical combat stress is vital to addressing the mental health needs of our troops and their families throughout the deployment cycle. If providers don't know what to look for, they may miss a crucial clue of the kind of treatment a patient really needs."

Key conference presenter is retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman's book explores the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations.

Additional sponsors include the Minnesota Psychological Association, University of Minnesota and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

In related Minnesota veteran news, an editorial from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune:

Minnesota communities and civic institutions can do much to help returning veterans make a healthy transition to civilian life. The Warrior to Citizen campaign promotes a variety of such activities, from simply offering thanks or a listening ear to veterans, to hosting job fairs and convening support groups.

That aspect of the new campaign is not unique. Many groups are offering a helping hand to returning vets. Indeed, the Minnesota Guard's own reintegration program, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, is receiving national acclaim for its systematic 30-, 60- and 90-day support seminars for Iraq war Guard veterans and their families.

But Warrior to Citizen is making a special contribution, highlighted last week by the Citizens League as part of its Civic Minds series. Its emphasis is not only on communities helping veterans, but also on veterans helping communities. It takes seriously a message Ahlness said needs saying just now: "We can expect great things of these veterans."

Warrior to Citizen maintains that a citizen's public work ought not end when a military uniform is packed away. It invites veterans who think the skills they acquired in Iraq aren't relevant to life in Minnesota to think again. Veterans' appreciation of group dynamics alone has wide application in civilian life -- not to mention the specialized skills many of them acquired in water quality improvement, construction, supply management and the like. Their stories of public service also have great value.

"All of our communities stand to benefit from the tremendous leadership skills these folks come back with," said Jessie Ostlund, a campaign developer. That idea should catch on. It can expand the way Minnesotans see returning vets -- and maybe the way they see themselves.

For more information, see, or call 612-625-0142.

Kudos to the great state of Minnesota.

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