Transition Time Is Critical For Returning Veterans


NEW YORK — Giving returning service members the time and resources to transition back into civilian life is essential to prevent substance abuse and identify mental health issues, according to experts.

Some veterans are literally in Iraq one day and in their living rooms the next, said Monica L. Martocci, clinical director of New Directions Inc., Los Angeles, a drug and alcohol treatment, and co-occurring disorders program serving homeless veterans.

Many veterans are young men and women with little life experience outside of the structured environments of school and the military, Ms. Martocci said. Some veterans might return home with drug or alcohol problems.

“They are popped right back into family life or real life without knowing what to do there,” Ms. Martocci said during a panel discussion on substance abuse and mental health issues among veterans and active duty military personnel at a meeting sponsored by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

Ideally, returning veterans should spend some time learning about their benefits and getting a physical and mental health assessment, she said. The idea is to identify veterans with substance abuse issues or symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder before they are back with their families and less likely to get professional support, she said.

Military leaders have started some programs aimed at addressing that issue. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program aims to help soldiers and their families prepare for deployment and get help adjusting to life when they return. Before deployment, soldiers and their families attend educational sessions about what to expect and what benefits will be available to them. During deployment, families learn about PTSD symptoms and the potential for marital stress.

When soldiers return, they attend workshops with their families and fellow soldiers at 30 and 60 days after their return home. The program began at the state level, and in 2008 Congress mandated that it be rolled out nationally to all National Guard and Army Reserve members and their families.

This program, already underway in Montana, has helped soldiers reconnect with their families in a healthy way, said Eric Newhouse, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of a book on PTSD. Before beginning the Yellow Ribbon program, National Guard and Army Reserve troops were given a 90-day break from drills. But that extended period of leave only served to break apart their support system and left them with no one to talk to about their experiences in combat, he said.

The sessions feature seminars on marriage, anger management, and taxes. They even learn how to drive like civilians again, Mr. Newhouse said.

'They are popped right back into family life or real life without knowing what to do there.'


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