In an August 19 presentation to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the Montana National Guard recommended major policy changes to better address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among its returning soldiers. Schweitzer now wants the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to fund the $970,000 plan to better fulfill its obligations to Montana’s soldiers.
“It’s more than treating just a few of them when they come home,” Schweitzer said in a Missoula interview with the Independent. “It’s counseling before they leave, while they’re there and when they return.”
The Guard’s 14 recommendations fill a 47-page plan that integrates peer, family and social contact that remain overlooked by the DOD’s post-deployment health assessment program for PTSD patients.
“If you’re a teacher in Circle, Montana, who’s just come back from Iraq,” explained Schweitzer, “there’s no other family in Circle that can share that experience with you.”
Combat veteran Roberta Shepard agrees that more open communication and personal contact would help stabilize the transition. A current Guard member and post-graduate clinical psychology
student at the University of Montana, Shepard understands how veterans can feel like outsiders.
“The veteran and his or her family can feel pretty isolated in the community,” she says. “Many service members commute to their drill, and so they may be physically distant from friends and colleagues whom they only see for two days out of each month. This geographic isolation can work to further make combat veterans feel as though there are no resources available in their locale, or no social support.”
Bryan Cochran, an assistant professor of psychology at UM, concurs with the plan’s attempts to facilitate entries to treatment and eliminate the stigma about asking for help.
“In a rural state like Montana, opportunities for isolation are vast,” he says.
The proposal currently awaits a hearing with the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services before the item can come to a vote and funding can be allocated.