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Mental health program to aid Guard, Reserves


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POSTED: Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mental Health America of Hawaii is launching a program called “;Healing the Trauma of the War”; to address combat stress, depression and other needs of returning National Guard soldiers and Reservists.

“;We're going to do a review of what happens when they return home and who is falling through the cracks,”; said Marya Grambs, MHA-Hawaii executive director.

The study will include spouses and look at marital problems and the impact on children of multiple deployments, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injury, suicide and employment issues, she said.

About 1,700 Hawaii Air and Army Guard and Army Reserve personnel have returned home after 10-month assignments in Kuwait.

MHA-Hawaii has retained theStrategist , an advisory firm to health care corporations and agencies, on a one-year consultant contract to work on the project.

Noe Foster, chief executive officer of the firm, said she is assembling a broad task force of National Guard and Reserve leaders, soldiers, families and other stakeholders. They will meet at least monthly over the next year to identify needs of Hawaii's 5,500 National Guard soldiers and 5,300 Reservists, she said.

She said mental health studies of soldiers show PTSD and suicides increase dramatically with frequency of deployments and, compared to other U.S. Guard and Reserve troops, Hawaii's soldiers have the highest frequency of deployments.

On a national level, statistics show 12 percent have some serious combat stress or depression on the first deployment, 19 percent on the second and 27 percent after the third, Foster said, adding that the task force is trying to get specific data on Hawaii soldiers.

U.S. Sen Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said at a hearing at the Oahu Veterans Center in Salt Lake last month that more should be done to help families of returning National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, MHA-H said.

Grambs said the returning troops face a “;triple whammy”; because of high unemployment and economic problems.

“;Those in my generation saw what happened to kids coming back from Vietnam,”; she said. “;We have to all join together and take responsibility and figure out how not to let anything that happened to our Vietnam veterans happen again.”;

She said the task force will talk to soldiers, spouses, the school system, professionals, and National Guard and Reserve leaders and hold focus groups “;to come to an understanding of what's not working and what's missing and create a plan of action to get needs filled.”;

Town hall meetings will be held next year to bring the public together with Guards and Reservists and their families “;about how the whole community can do a better job of supporting our own soldiers,”; Grambs said.

Foster said Guard and Reserve unit members face challenges of housing and health care and “;they don't have the camaraderie of troops they would have on active duty. ... They're coming back to a world that changed in the past year.”;

“;To help these soldiers and their families, we need to see things from the 30,000-foot level to the foxhole level and every point in between,”; Foster added.