A Feb. 13 Capitol Hill briefing co-sponsored by APA, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) focused on the challenges faced by veterans and their families.
Speaking to a standing-room-only audience of mostly Hill staffers, Minnesota Army National Guard Capt. Aaron Krenz recalled the effects that killing three insurgents during an ambush in Iraq had on one soldier: Shaking with adrenaline, the soldier kept asking, "Sir, did I do the right thing?" Later that night, the soldier sat with his head in his hands, crying and asking "What am I going to tell my wife?"
Mental health professionals are essential to helping returning service members with such questions, said Krenz.
To meet that need, Krenz helped run a reintegration program organized by the Minnesota National Guard called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. The program brings in Guard soldiers and their families for briefings on the challenges of transitioning back into civilian life. At 30 and 60 days after their homecoming they discuss parenting issues, marital relationships, alcohol and substance abuse, and gambling problems. At the 90-day mark, they undergo a post-deployment health reassessment, an evaluation that includes a brief screening for mental health concerns.
At the briefing, Krenz was joined by Sgt. Patrick Campbell, a combat medic who was deployed with a Louisiana National Guard infantry unit and serves as legislative director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America--the first association formed to advocate for service members and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. "You have the two best programs in the nation right here, the Center for Deployment Psychology, which is training cultural competence, [and] you have the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, which is light-years ahead of what other National Guard units were getting before," Campbell said.
Speaking last, David Riggs, PhD, a clinical psychologist serving as executive director of the Center for Deployment Psychology, located at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., noted that between 10 percent and 20 percent of the 1.5 million service members who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan have experienced mental health issues following a deployment.
With that in mind, the APA's Education Directorate Government Relations Office staff urged Congress to support the center, which has trained 130 military and civilian mental health professionals through a two-week course at its headquarters campus. About 500 more have been trained in short seminars held nationwide, Riggs said. Training includes helping service members deal with combat stress, coping with the emotional problems that come with traumatic physical injuries and helping family members deal with deployments.
During the briefing, Rep. Farr emphasized the need to extend assistance to smaller communities where many National Guard and Reserve service members live.
"I want to thank you for stepping up to the plate, and helping upgrade services to our personnel, military and civilians," Farr said.