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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

National Council Magazine Reports on Community Programs Providing Support for Military Families

Far too often the needs of our military families are still not being fully met by the overwhelmed traditional healthcare systems they rely on for their care. As a result, over the past few years, local organizations have sprung up all across the country, offering tailor-made support services and reintegration programs.

The trend is covered in full scope and detail in the current issue of National Council Magazine. Filled with first-person accounts, case studies, the latest PTSD data and much more, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare's current quarterly issue is a rich's also available online as a free PDF download.

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

The 48-page issue offers:

Compelling, firsthand stories by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars about their continuing struggles with mental health and addiction disorders... The magazine, titled "Veterans on the Road Home," highlights the difficulties that many returning soldiers are facing and how community-based mental health and addictions organizations are helping them adjust to civilian life. ...

The magazine includes a harrowing, firsthand account by Travis Williams. The former Marine was the lone survivor of a road bomb explosion in Iraq that killed all 11 members of his rifle squad in 2005.

"When we arrived home, it seemed surreal," writes Williams, now a civilian in Montana. "I felt more out of place here than I had in Iraq. I isolated myself from friends and family and dwelled in my emptiness."

Articles from treatment centers in several states illustrate how the need for treatment far exceeds the capacity of the VA, and how community-based mental health and addictions organizations are ideally equipped to help returning soldiers reintegrate into civilian life. Congress is considering legislation to extend and supplement the treatment systems for the VA by funding the nation's network of existing public community mental health and addictions agencies. The legislation would enable more returning veterans and their families to take advantage of the mental health and addiction treatment services in their own communities.

From the introduction:

Veterans on the Road Home

Linda Rosenberg, MSW
President & CEO
National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan no longer dominate the evening news or the public’s consciousness. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, only 16 percent of Americans name the Iraq war as the story that first comes to mind when asked what has been in the news lately. But for the thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen still serving in these war zones, the war remains a central part of their lives. And for the thousands of veterans who return home with physical and mental scars, their wounds can present particular challenges for years to come.

This is why the National Council is dedicating this issue of our magazine to veterans and their continuing struggles with mental health and addiction issues. As for returning serviceman and servicewomen, the war looms large for National Council members—community mental health and addictions services organizations—working with the families left behind during tours of duty and dealing with the war’s aftermath in the form of veterans returning with posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

And our involvement may intensify—we may soon be on the frontlines of the veterans’ battlefield back home. At this writing, Congress is considering legislation to extend and supplement the treatment systems for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by funding the nation’s network of existing public community mental health and addictions agencies. The legislation would enable more returning veterans and their families to take advantage of the mental health and addiction treatment services in their own communities.

Our members’ deep roots in the community leave us well suited to take on this welcome task. For one, veterans can receive treatment in their hometowns and not have to travel to VA centers located in other towns and cities. Our services go beyond our doors as we engage churches, schools, and other community stalwarts to become involved in a holistic approach that treats the whole family.

As our communities gear up to effectively meet the needs of returning veterans and their families, they are faced with a multitude of important questions. What do we need to know to effectively serve veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and their families? What does cultural competency mean with respect to those who have served in the military and their families? What are the unique characteristics of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that should inform treatment? What lessons can be learned from behavioral healthcare providers who already specialize in treating these veterans and family members?

To help address these pressing questions and to advise behavioral health providers about where to find additional information, we’ve developed an orientation and training manual, Meeting the Mental Health and Substance Use Needs of Veterans Returning From Operation Iraqi Freedom And Operation Enduring Freedom and Their Families. Funded by the Center for Mental Health Services within the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the manual aims to equip mental health and addictions staff to fully engage veterans and their families. By providing strategies, techniques, and advice, the manual is designed to serve as a resource compendium and reference tool with detailed information to guide readers who seek additional learning.

The manual will soon be available on our website at

In compiling the manual, we seized on the combined wisdom detailed in case studies of six community behavioral healthcare providers and state associations with special expertise in and commitment to serving veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. These innovative and collaborative aspects of their services turned into eight “lessons learned”:

Lesson #1: Understanding military culture is key - The focus is on perceptions of military service and mental health and on substance use service needs.

Lesson #2: Navigating the military’s behavioral healthcare system is a challenge - The focus is on the VA, VA medical centers and clinics, vet centers, women’s health programs, and homeless programs.

Lesson #3: The gap between needs and resources is wide
- Much is being done, and more needs to be done, now and perhaps for years to come.

Lesson #4: Financing services for veterans and families demands creativity and patience - The complexities of accessing TRICARE, VA, and other fiscal systems require attention if those resources are to be available to community behavioral health agencies.

Lesson #5: Local planning matters - States and communities are unique, yet they share common needs.

Lesson #6: Veterans, family members, and community leaders are our best allies - Veteran peer specialists, primary healthcare professionals, faith-based providers, and others in the community constitute a corps of highly effective advocates to build treatment and recovery support services.

Lesson #7: Behavioral health staff excel when carefully trained and deployed - The current training of community behavioral health staff in critical areas, such as trauma, recovery, and family service systems, provides a solid foundation on which to build specialized services for returning veterans and their families.

Lesson #8: Adjust, adjust, adjust - It is no surprise to community behavioral health providers that systems of services and supports evolve most effectively when people are prepared to adjust to expected and unanticipated developments.

And let us not forget perhaps the biggest lesson learned: The wars may no longer be front-page news, but they are still front and center in the lives of returning veterans. Every community in our nation has been affected, and every community behavioral healthcare organization stands ready to respond.

Download your copy [pdf], which covers the above important lessons and much, much more. One final portion necessary to share, dealing with current related legislation the National Council supports:

The National Council, along with Mental Health America, has advocated hard for passage of the Veterans Mental Health Outreach and Access Act—introduced in the Senate (S 38) by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Barack Obama (D-IL) on May 23, 2007, and introduced in the House (HR 2689) by Representatives Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Albio Sires (D-NJ) on June 12, 2007. The act is intended to improve access to mental health services for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Veterans Mental Health Outreach and Access Act would authorize the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive national program to increase the availability of mental health support so that veterans affected by combat-related mental health problems do not go without access to the care they need. In remote areas of the country in which the VA determines that access to a VA medical center is inadequate, the bill directs the Secretary of the VA to contract with community mental health centers to provide treatment and support services and readjustment counseling. All contracted providers would be required to hire a qualified peer specialist and have its clinicians participate in a training program to ensure that services are tailored to meet the specialized needs of combat-affected veterans.

The bill calls on the VA Secretary to develop a national program to train returning servicemembers for positions as peer outreach workers and support specialists. The bill places particular emphasis on providing services for National Guardsmen and reserve veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These civilian soldiers often return from combat duty and immediately resume civilian life and may not have adequate access to readjustment services or VA facilities. The legislation includes provisions to extend counseling services to veterans’ families, who may also experience issues with readjustment after their loved ones have returned from deployment.

Another bill, the Veterans’ Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 (HR 2874 and S 2612), would require the VA (1) to create a national program to train and deploy returning veterans to provide peer outreach and support services and (2) in rural areas not adequately served by a VA facility, to enter into arrangements with community behavioral health centers. The bill, introduced by Representative Michael Michaud (D-ME), was passed in the House on August 6, 2007.

Provisions from both bills have passed Congress in the form of HR 2874 and S 2612. The National Council urges Congress to quickly reconcile and pass a final bill.

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