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SAMHSA News - May/June 2006, Volume 14, Number 3

The Road Home: National Conference on Returning Veterans and Their Families

Community Services Provide Safety Net for Returning Veterans

photo of Sgt. Aundrey Sanchez
Sgt. Aundrey Sanchez
photo of Antonette Zeiss, Ph.D.
Antonette Zeiss, Ph.D.
photo of Richard Steinberg, M.Ed.
Richard Steinberg, M.Ed.
When Sgt. Aundrey Sanchez tells the story of his time in Iraq, he uses certain words repeatedly: words like "pride," "patriotism," and "excitement," but also words like "fear," "sadness," and "shock." When the Army mechanic returned home to South Carolina, his wife told him he had become more aggressive and quick to anger.

"Those are changes I had to accept," said Sgt. Sanchez, who now works at an insurance company. "It was no easy transition."

Sgt. Sanchez' successful reintegration back into civilian life makes him one of the lucky ones. Some of the soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan aren't so fortunate. For them, the rigors of warfare have led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological problems, substance abuse, even suicide.

To help repay that debt, SAMHSA sponsored a 3-day conference in partnership with Therapeutic Communities of America (TCA) in Washington, DC, in March. "The Road Home: The National Behavioral Health Conference on Returning Veterans and Their Families" brought together more than 1,000 community mental health and substance abuse treatment providers to discuss evidence-based strategies for restoring hope and building resiliency in veterans, active-duty service members, reservists, National Guard members, and their families.

"The duties of today's soldiers can leave
footprints on their psyches. . . . We owe
veterans more than gratitude."

—Charles G. Curie   
SAMHSA Administrator   

photo of SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W.
SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W.
For TCA Executive Director Linda Hay Crawford, M.Ed., the conference was a way to help providers avoid the mistakes of the past. "For many years after Vietnam, we were seeing people too late in their addictions and their PTSD," she said. "Now we want to catch problems earlier and help families be part of the solution. And communities have a definite role to play in welcoming veterans home and helping families prevent behavioral health issues."

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A Different Kind of War

In any war, soldiers may witness death and destruction. They may suffer injuries themselves. They may experience relentless stress.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, additional factors put soldiers at risk of substance abuse and mental health problems. The lack of a front line, for example, means that soldiers can face danger anywhere—even in supposedly "safe" zones. And medical advances now allow soldiers to survive catastrophic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and wounds that would once have been fatal.

Those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan also differ from those who fought previous wars. Today's military includes an unprecedented number of women, for instance. And soldiers are more likely than ever before to be National Guard or reserve personnel, who may not be as prepared for combat as regular troops. In fact, roughly half of the 150,000 troops in combat are National Guard members and reservists, according to Richard Steinberg, M.Ed., Immediate Past President of TCA and President and Chief Executive Officer of WestCare.

Most returning veterans do just fine, emphasized H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). But for some, war's psychological impact can be serious and long-lasting.

And most can benefit from support as they make the transition back to civilian life. "During war, soldiers may dream of returning home," said Dr. Clark. "When they return, they often find that things aren't as ideal as they remembered." In addition to problems with money, marriages, child-rearing, jobs, housing, and the like, veterans may feel alienated from family, friends, and society.

Mental disorders are one of the top three conditions that lead veterans to seek care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), explained Antonette Zeiss, Ph.D., Deputy Chief Consultant in the Office of Mental Health Services at the VA Central Office. Within that category, PTSD is by far the most common diagnosis. Veterans also come in complaining of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, and substance abuse.

Top photo illustration designed by Martín Castillo. All other photos in this Special Report by David Kasamatsu for SAMHSA.

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Inside This Issue

Employment: Help for People with Mental Illness
Part 1
Part 2

From the Administrator: Employment Can Enhance Recovery

Special Report - The Road Home: National Conference on Returning Veterans & Their Families
The Road Home: National Conference on Returning Veterans & Their Families

Community Services Provide Safety Net for Returning Veterans
Part 1
Part 2

Addressing Special Needs of Veterans

Preventing Suicide among Veterans

Recovery Month Includes Veterans

Resources for Veterans

Report to Congress Offers Plan To Reduce Underage Drinking

Substance Use State by State

Therapeutic Community Curriculum Available

Community-Based Care Helps Children

Updates on SAMHSA Grants

Summit To Discuss Disaster Preparedness

SAMHSA Hosts HBCU Conference

Older Adult Treatment Admissions

SAMHSA News Information

SAMHSA News - May/June 2006, Volume 14, Number 3