July 1st, 2012

Commission to re-visit needs of veterans

The growing incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans has received a large amount of press in recent years. Still, officials in New Hampshire have discovered that finding those vets and understanding exactly what services they need has not been easy.

After a commission set up by the state legislature in 2008 failed to make any headway, State Senator Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), who is also a veteran, spearheaded a follow up bill in 2011 to continue its work.

“There was not a lot of time to get the commission set up and going,” says Carson, who sponsored both the 2008 and the 2011 versions of the bills. “I re-filed the bill so that we would have more time to study the issue and look at the resources that we have.”

“These are our folks,” she adds. “We have to make sure that, if they need help, they are going to get help when they come home.”

The new Commission on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, created in Sept. 2011, includes 18 members from diverse backgrounds: members of the legislature, mental health fields, the Veteran’s Administration and law enforcement, among others.

The new commission set about to ascertain how members can be more proactive, according to Nicole Sawyer, Psy.D.,the acting chair of the commission and a representative on the team for the New Hampshire Psychological Association. What members found was that the information gathered previously had been more anecdotal and not backed up by sufficient statistical data.

“Our recommendations will not be different but we will have the data to back it up,” says Sawyer.

After contacting the VA and agencies who work with veterans for records on the number of veterans with PTSD or TBI, the commission felt that the data was not representative of actual cases.

One issue is that many organizations who treat for PTSD or TBI do not necessarily track the military history of those patients. Another concern, says Carson, is that these issues are still treated with a certain amount of stigma, making it difficult for people to admit that they are having a problem.

“People can be uncomfortable asking for help,” says Carson.

In May, the commission launched a survey to reach the veterans directly. With a large marketing push behind it, the commission hopes to reach 15-20 percent of the state’s 135,000 veterans. The survey asks if the veteran has permanent housing and employment and if he or she was diagnosed with, or suspects having, PTSD or TBI. Additional questions ask the respondent about problems they may have had seeking treatment.

The goal, says Sawyer, is to gather a fairly representative sample and to use the information to understand where they need to put their efforts, whether it is with more information about the services that exist or creating more. The commission also hopes to tie local veterans in to services already offered by the military.

In addition, the commission has also been working with the N.H. State Police to target troopers who are veterans and help them to work with any issues or concerns that they have.

For access to the survey, visit www.nh-veteran.com.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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