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    'Life After War': Help for returning veterans at home

    10:54 PM, Feb 22, 2012   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- It is a campaign called "Make the Connection" designed to reach veterans, both young and old. It was created by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to help those veterans adjust to civilian life.

    "Since 2002, about 2.3 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and of those about 700,000 are receiving VA medical care across the nation," says Nakia Williams, Program Manager for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

    "Our program is here to ensure that our veterans have easy access to the VA," says Williams, serving as a gatekeeper to a complex system with multiple programs guiding them to the services they need.

    "They are missing out on so many opportunities and resources that are available and often times, they are not aware of the programs that we have to offer here at the VA," says Williams.

    Programs designed to help the walking wounded, those physically healthy but having difficulty coping with life as a civilian. They are facing other challenges upon returning home, like finding a job.

    "We can take and work with someone who doesn't know anything about computers all the way up to someone who is trying to get into college or graduate school and have classes and support for them," says Craig Rookey, Chief of Vocational and Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Services.

    A team of mental health professionals at the VA are helping veterans battle all kinds of problems from homelessness, substance abuse and brain injuries all the way to the most serious mental health issue.

    "What we do is identify people that are at risk for suicide," says Janean Taylor, Suicide Prevention Coordinator.

    She says Arkansas ranks 13th nationally in the number of suicides committed each year and veterans are twice as likely to attempt it.

    "There are lots of things that drive people to think about ending their lives and the more losses they have, the more depressed they get and the less reason they feel like they have to live," says Taylor.

    No matter the status of a veteran's application for benefits at the regional office, medical care is always available.

    "The access to care is much better than it was in the past. That's something that we didn't do as well for our returning veterans from Vietnam and I think that is something that has been a priority from the secretary all the way down," says Dr. Mark Hinterhuer, Chief Psychologist at the North Little Rock VA hospital.

    Dr. Vince Roca, Director of the VA's Outpatient Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Unit says the Vietnam War propelled research in mental illness in veterans.

    "When Vietnam veterans returned, the term PTSD did not exist. In fact, many of the veterans making these reports, 'It's almost as though I'm not here, I'm back there' some folks thought they had schizophrenia and they were giving them medications for schizophrenia back then," says Dr. Roca.

    Today, the VA's treatments are giving veterans coping skills to deal with the trauma of war.

    "We'd ask veterans to give the VA another look if for some reason or another, they had a bad experience in the past," says Dr. Roca."You have one question to ask yourself. Is the quality of my life what I'd like it to be? If the answer is no, you have served our country. The VA is here to serve you."

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