August 21st, 2010

Coalition helps service members and families get help

When soldiers are deployed, it’s like dropping a pebble into a pool.

“There is a major ripple effect,” says Vermont National Guard LTC. Marc Goudreau. “Everybody is impacted.”

Returning soldiers suffer from higher unemployment rates, domestic issues and divorce, posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“If these service members are going to have these issues, if we’re not as a community bonding together to try to support these individuals, we’re all going to feel the pain down the road,” Goudreau adds.

Goudreau is part of a Vermont coalition helping service members and their families access assistance. One of the missions of the Vermont Military, Family and Community Network (VTMFCN) is to train not only doctors and counselors, but also employers, family members and neighbors to recognize potential problems.

Laurie Slone, Ph.D., associate director for information and communication, VA National Center for PTSD, who spearheaded the network in 2005, says the goal is to increase awareness to both the issues that deployed service members and their families face and the resources that exist to help them.

“When the network began we thought that there were gaps in services,” Slone says. “But what we really found is that the services are out there. It’s just a matter of finding the right place to bring somebody together with them.”

It’s also about reminding the entire community that soldiers confront continued challenges once they are home. The network aims “to inform the public at large so that wherever anyone turns for help, they can be pointed in the right direction,” she says.

In addition to working with the VTMFCN, the Vermont National Guard’s own outreach program was recently awarded $2.4 million in federal funding to help all soldiers and their families deal with post-deployment issues.

Returning soldiers experience a 25 to 35 percent unemployment rate, which contributes to divorce and other family stresses. The network mobilizes resources to offer opportunities, like job and college fairs and has trained psychologists to help.

Goudreau says the VTMFCN take a holistic approach to deployment issues and targets the areas of jobs and college opportunities; financial issues; health care; and family reintegration. “If you look at any one of those, those really can add stress or impact a family negatively or positively depending on where they stand,” he says.

Goudreau wants to improve outreach efforts without stigmatizing soldiers. So the network is working to have medical doctors and mental health providers ask routine, but subtle questions they wouldn’t normally ask, that can help identify potential risks for suicide, PTSD, TBI and other issues.

“More and more people are aware that there’s something called PTSD out there,” Slone says. “One of the jobs of the network is to help people know what common reactions are following deployment. Because if you didn’t have changes, that wouldn’t be normal.

Another job is “to identify red flags that more serious help may be needed,” she says. “That’s for both providers and the lay public. It’s a whole community approach.”

Slone says it’s also important for the community – including teachers, nurses or law enforcement – to ask a question like “has a family member recently been deployed?”

The network helps mental health professionals direct clients to assistance in other areas of their lives, for example, if a client is stressed about losing his home. “If you are a couples’ therapist but need information about financial assistance, the network works to try to help break down the silos between different resources and services that are out there,” Slone says.

Slone received pilot funding to start a network in Maine that closely mirrors the Vermont model. She is also involved in a national effort, the “Community Blueprint,” which seeks to help facilitate these community efforts nation-wide.

By Pamela Berard

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