Addressing OIF/OEF veterans’ needs

American service members have sacrificed a great deal in the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many of those who have returned are still battling. Only now they are not fighting the enemy around them. They are, at times, fighting an even more elusive foe within—the psychological effects of war. This foe is often not recognized or acknowledged. Moreover, the system that provides treatment for psychological trauma for veterans is not always well implemented.

In April, 2009 over 800 Wyoming Army Guardsmen left for Iraq and Afghanstan to serve in Operation Iraqi Freeedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. With the national average of at least 40 percent of veterans returning from deployment with either PTSD and/or a TBI, it was estimated that approximately 320 of the 800 returning veterans would need assistance in accessing services to address these war wounds. And these numbers do not begin to reflect active duty service members from around this great state who served our country during this conflict.

In anticipation of their return home, the Veterans’s Outreach and Advocacy Program contracted five Veterans Advocates to provide coverage in each region of the state. Their primary responsibiltiy is to seek out OIF/OEF veterans and assist them in accessing mental health services.

Early on in this program it was discovered that the veterans were not addressing their mental health issues when the overarching challenge for them was getting/keeping a roof over their (and family’s) head, food on the table and employment. They were in need of assistance to address these concerns before they could take care of themselves. During all this they were also trying to find out where they fit in, and deal with the feeling of “I just don’t know where I fit in anymore…” to “I just feel different”. PTSD, other mental health concerns and TBI were affecting their ability to cope with everyday stressors in an ordinary way. Instead some are angry, withdrawn and feeling like there’s no purpose to their lives.

The Advocates provide outreach, comprehensive case management, needs assessments, and reintegration assistance through advocacy and referrals, SSI/SSDI application assistance, referrals and advocacy in setting up mental health and substance use assessments, collaborations with other veterans services providers and provider trainings on working with veterans. If yourself, or someone close to you is experiencing challenges stemming from their deployment, please call 1-800-535-4006 to put them in touch with the Wyoming Department of Health, Behavioral Health Division’s Veterans’ Outreach & Advocacy program. Rest assured, confidentiality is of the utmost importance.

You may also contact the advocate in your individual area: Northeast Region, Leon Chamberlain, [email protected], (307) 358-5895.