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CONTACT: For more information contact: DMNA: Eric Durr, 518-786-4581 or 518-429-5196 (cell);Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center: Peter Potter at 518- 626-5522 ;NYS DVA: William Krause at 518- 474-6114
FOR RELEASE: Friday, Feb 13, 2009
ON SITE: Counseling Effort Aimed at Identify Issues , Preventing Suicides

National Guard, State And Federal Veterans Affairs Team To Care For Soldiers

LATHAM, NY (02/13/2009)-- The New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs, the state Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are teaming up to ensure that 1,200 National Guard Soldiers from across the state, who have recently returned from Afghanistan, are getting the services, and counseling, they need as they come home after almost a year in combat. The state and federal agencies are partnering with the New York Army National Guard as it launches its 90-day reintegration program, aimed at helping returning veterans fit back into home and work as they transition from full-time to part-time Soldier. Special emphasis is being placed on ensuring that each returning veteran gets one-on-one time with a counselor that can help identify any special problems or needs those combat veterans have, said Major General Joseph Taluto, the Adjutant General and commander of the Army National Guard. This kind of interaction is especially important as the Army works to reduce the number of suicides among Soldiers, Taluto said. "The Army never leaves a fallen comrade behind in battle," Taluto said. "Providing counseling to our returning warriors ensures that their problems and concerns in coming back from combat are not ignored," he added. In 2008 number of suicides in the Army-Active, Reserve, and National Guard-reached 128. This was up from 115 in 2007, 99 in 2006, and 87 in 2005. This works out to a suicide rate of about 20.2 per 100,000 people. The U.S. average for suicides is 19.2 per 100,000. Of the more than 8,000 members of the New York Army National guard who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 , there have been two confirmed suicides. Sgt. Denise Lanaman committed suicide in Kuwait in October 2006, and Sgt. Matthew Prolux-who deployed to Iraq in 2005-killed himself in the driveway of his Buffalo home in April 2007. "Two is not a large number, but any unnecessary Soldier death is one too many," Taluto said. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs and state Division of Veterans Affairs will continue to ensure that returning Soldiers get counseling and veterans' services they need, while the Department of Labor guarantees that they learn about job opportunities. At a reintegration session held in January, 67 of the 150 participating Soldiers asked for assistance, or additional counseling. This response indicates that the opportunity to speak with the veterans counselors privately gives the Soldiers a chance to air issues about family, work, and their deployment, Taluto said. "As the Army wrestles with problems of increased Soldier suicides, the New York Army National Guard wants to ensure that any of our Soldiers who are troubled and suffering from post deployment stress have a chance to speak with professionals who can get them help if they need it," Taluto said. The National Guard anticipates almost 1,000 Soldiers and family members will attend reintegration sessions at the Rochester Civic Center. Another 500 Soldiers and family members will attend reintegration meetings at the Sagamore in Bolton Landing, while 600 Soldiers and family members will attend events at the Tarrytown Marriot. "This is the largest unit reintegration we've conducted since we launched our Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program a year ago," Taluto said. "We want to incorporate everything we've learned in running smaller units through the process and add new programs." "The return of these veterans and their reintegration with families, jobs and school can be a "make-or-break" endeavor. We're in this together with the New York National Guard to make sure their transition is one of "making it" by becoming successful veterans, each and every one of them," said Col (ret.) James D. McDonough, Jr., Director of the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs. "We have to teach our veterans and their families how to be successful, just as we do when they enlist and become Soldiers. The New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs is beginning a large outreach effort with recently discharged veterans to make sure they receive everything they've earned by becoming one of today's veterans. The effort, titled "Recently Discharged from the Military, What's Next?" is targeted at critical elements of that success - employment, financial assistance, education and healthcare," McDonough said. The Department of Veterans Affairs started the counseling program with returning National Guard Soldiers in New Hampshire in 2004 and have since extended it to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine, said Dr. James Garrett, deputy regional Manager for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Vet Center Northeast Region. "This program has been very successful in several New England states in identifying Soldiers with readjustment problems and we are happy to expand it to New York," Garrett said. "We consider it a real privilege to be able to speak with these soldiers," he added. "It's important we make contact with as many Veterans as possible, letting them know about the multitude of programs, services and quality healthcare available," said Mary-Ellen Piché, Director of the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "It's important we make contact with as many Veterans as possible, letting them know about the multitude of programs, services and quality healthcare available," said Mary-Ellen Piché, Director of the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Newly returning Veterans need to know that they are eligible for five-years of free healthcare upon their return from active duty, and that they have access to programs specifically designed to make their transition back to civilian life seamless. And, with pressing issue such as the alarming rise in suicide among our newest veterans, it's vital we get information out to them about services like our national Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), based out of upstate New York." Through our partnerships, especially with local, state and federal agencies, we help maximize the benefits realized by our veterans," Piché added. "The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is a great example of this effort and we are excited to be part of it, bolstering our OEF/OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom) program and outreach efforts and reaching as many veterans as possible." The federal VA effort to provide counselors to talk to every returning Soldier for 10 to 15 minutes has been very successful since it was introduced in August of 2008. New to this round of reintegration events will be a "career fair" organized by the state Department of Labor. This event will be offered to the Soldiers and their families at the second round of reintegration meetings. Employers and trade unions will be on hand to talk to the veterans about potential jobs, and also offer advice on job search and resume writing. "In today's troubled economic climate, we want to help our Citizen Soldiers take advantage of the job opportunities their unique military experience opens up to them," Taluto said. "Soldiers are trained to think rapidly, and show initiative, and these are skills any employer would value," he added. Both the veterans counseling and the job fair will take place at the 60-day reintegration event in the National Guard's 90-day reintegration program. These events are set for late March and early April for the members of the 27th Brigade Combat Team. "At the 60-day mark we've found that problems with stress, Soldiers relating to families, and alcohol abuse are starting to emerge and it is the right time to talk about these issues," Taluto said. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program requires Soldiers to be present for paid assemblies at 30 and 60 days after their return from a combat zone, and invites families to attend as well. The sessions are held in a non-threatening, non-military environment, to provide Soldiers and families a chance to share experiences and talk frankly with each other and counselors about their experiences. National Guard Soldiers are put back in touch with people who shared and understand their experience, at about the time the "honeymoon phase" of their homecoming starts fading. And with their families by their side, they hear about benefits and programs such as veterans' benefits, education and job opportunities and available support networks. At two months, there are briefings on anger management, substance abuse, compulsive behaviors, financial management and other topics. Army studies have found that these issues occur at about those times. Again, spouses and families are invited along and the National Guard pays for the hotel for this session. After 90 days, the Soldiers return to regular drilling status and report to their Armory for medical checks and additional briefings following a "Freedom Salute" ceremony at which they receive awards and public recognition for their service in combat. The program is constantly changing as the National Guard learns more about how to help Soldiers come home from combat, Taluto said. 27th BCT Reintegration Events: Feb: 20-21: Rochester Civic Center, Approximately 1000 Soldiers and Family members Feb: 27-28: Sagamore, Bolton Landing; Approximately 500 Soldiers and Family members March 6-7: Mariott Hotel, Tarrytown: Approximately 700+ Soldiers and Family members March 21-22: Rochester Civic Center April 4-5: Marriott Hotel, Tarrytown April 18: Sagamore, Bolton Landing
© NYS DMNA Press Release:National Guard, State And Federal Veterans Affairs Team To Care For Soldiers
Page Last Modified: Feb 13, 2009