National Guard Focuses on Mental
Health, Substance Abuse
By Rebecca A. Clay
Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Boatman
is haunted by the suicide of a National
Guardsman suffering from depression.
He’s also convinced that a new
program could have saved the young
“If he had been getting mental health services
locally, maybe there could have been more frequent
visits and better followup,” said LTC Boatman,
Chief of Substance Abuse Prevention for the National
Guard Bureau in Crystal City, VA.
Connecting National Guard (Guard) members to mental
health and substance abuse services in their own communities
is the purpose of the Guard’s new Prevention,
Treatment, and Outreach program.
Launched in 2007 at the direction of the Assistant
Secretary of Defense, the program aims to keep Guard
members from falling through the cracks. According
to LTC Boatman, the program draws heavily on SAMHSA’s
resources and help.
Sgt. Rashie Burnett, along with
other California Air National
Guard personnel, clears out shrubs
and thickets in the forest outside
of Paradise City, CA, during
fire-line training. U.S. Air
Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan
The National Guard’s status as “citizen
soldiers” means their health care benefits differ
from those of other soldiers on active duty often right
by their side.
For those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan,
the military’s TRICARE benefits end soon after
they return from active duty. These vets also have
limited U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits
for a few years.
According to LTC Boatman, these benefits often aren’t
enough. For one thing, he says, VA facilities are “simply
overwhelmed.” For another, post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), drinking or substance abuse disorders,
and other problems often surface long after benefits
have run out. There’s also the problem of Guard
members who haven’t been deployed, but who nonetheless
need mental health or substance abuse services.
“This is a readiness issue,” said LTC
Boatman, noting that Guard members with untreated problems
will not be prepared to respond to tornadoes and
other crises at home, let alone deploy
to Iraq or Afghanistan. “We need to do all we
can to provide them with quality services,” he
With SAMHSA’s Help
To ensure access to care for citizen soldiers, the
National Guard created the Prevention, Treatment, and
Outreach program. The program currently operates in
35 states. LTC Boatman hopes he’ll eventually
have the funding to expand the program to all states
|Soldiers of the Arkansas
Army National Guard's 875th Engineer Battalion and
the Missouri Army National Guard's 110th Engineer Battalion
stand together during a transfer of authority for a
critical route clearance mission in Iraq. U.S.
Army photo by Staff Sgt. Chris A. Durney.
|A U.S. Army soldier
with 102nd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut National
Guard, hands crayons to an Afghan boy during the humanitarian
aid portion of a medical civic-action program in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joey L. Suggs.
|Young American Day—Capt.
William Kopp shows the instruments of an F-15 Eagle
to a young visitor during Young American Day on August
12 at the Oregon Air National Guard Base in Portland.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Hughel,
“SAMHSA played a major role in assisting the
Guard in creating this program,” he explained.
To develop its strategy, the National Guard met with
SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D.; Center for
Substance Abuse Treatment Director H. Westley Clark,
M.D., J.D., M.P.H.; and Senior Advisor on Substance
Abuse Beverly Watts Davis.
“What we’re doing is really helping them
piece together a web of community services,” explained
At the heart of the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach
initiative is a six-module training
program called Team Readiness, developed
by Joel Bennett, Ph.D. The program draws on the SAMHSA
model program, Team Awareness. The Guard worked with
SAMHSA and the program’s
developer to adapt this workplace
training program to meet specific needs. “We
needed to make it more Guard-friendly,” said
LTC Boatman, citing as an example the need to incorporate
Team Readiness assists in the reintegration process
for returning National Guard members and their dependents.
The peer-to-peer assistance features referrals to local
resources that can help screen for and treat PTSD,
substance abuse, and other problems. “Guardsmen
and women will confide in another enlisted person more
than they will an officer,” says LTC Boatman. “There’s
no stigma attached when you’re talking to a peer.”
The Team Readiness program isn’t the only component
of the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach initiative.
The initiative also provides drug and alcohol classes
that help participants understand how substance abuse
jeopardizes their health, their families, and their
The National Guard doesn’t provide mental health
and substance abuse treatment; however, it does help
connect members to services. “We rely on SAMHSA’s
treatment locator,” said LTC Boatman. “SAMHSA
also has a hotline number we give out.”
The initiative also reaches out to families and offers
referrals to relatives concerned about a Guard member’s
health. There’s even a camp for children to help
them cope with the feelings and stress of having their
“There’s no way we would have been able
to develop the program without SAMHSA’s help,” said
Resources for Returning Veterans
and Their Families
This SAMHSA Web page includes:
- How to find treatment for mental health and substance
- Publications about coping
- Webcasts and conferences
- Statistical reports and
SAMHSA’s Office of Applied Studies
offers several statistical reports
to veterans. They include Serious
Psychological Distress and Substance Use Disorder
among Veterans. For the full report,
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
VA’s National Center for PTSD offers fact sheets,
tips, and guides on coping with war trauma or a loved
one’s return from deployment at www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/veterans.
For information on suicide warning
signs and links for specialized topics,
For more resources and the SAMHSA
2008 article on returning veterans,
visit SAMHSA News online at www.samhsa.gov/SAMHSA_News/VolumeXVI_1/
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