Following the withdrawal of troops in Iraq and the proposed drawdown in Afghanistan, the National Guard is focusing on treatment for combat veterans. The Kentucky National Guard has joined forces with the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Louisville to develop a counseling program that will change the way combat veterans are treated.
Capt. Stephanie Fields, Deputy State Surgeon for the Kentucky National Guard, said the initial goal of the new program is to provide additional behavioral health resources for all of Kentucky's combat veterans without the standard wait period they often experience with the Veterans Administration or their civilian medical provider. "While everyone acknowledges that the Veterans Administration has been providing excellent treatment, the volume of soldiers has caused considerable wait times," said Fields in a news release from the Kentucky National Guard. "This new program will be a great help in that regard."
The program also aims to address the use of medications and confidentiality issues. "We also wanted to decrease the amount of medication use by our combat veterans by helping them with problem solving skills and ways to manage the stresses in their lives," Fields said. Confidentiality was a huge factor in the program. "Sometimes our veterans are reluctant to come in for help because of a perceived stigma, or they might be afraid asking for help might affect their military career," said Fields. "We had to provide assurances if we were going to make any headway into those problems."
An $80,000 grant from the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs is providing the funding for the program, in which a full time social worker handles requests and a team from the University of Louisville deals with the medication and privacy issues.
Dr. Eric Russ is an assistant professor at the University of Louisville's Department of Psychiatry who used to work with the VA. "While medications can certainly play an important part in the treatment of some of these disorders," said Russ, "for something like PTSD the gold standard treatment of care is 'talk therapy.' Particular kinds of talk therapy have proven to do really well, reducing PTSD symptoms in as little as ten to twelve weeks. We work really hard to keep medication use to a minimum and in some cases use none at all."
Ten to twelve weeks is optimal, Russ explained. The average is more like sixteen. But there is the issue of privacy and confidentiality. Floyd Hunsaker, Director of Psychological Health for the Kentucky Army National Guard is optimistic. "If you're a soldier and your friends and family say you've changed, maybe you should stop and think about what they're talking about," said Hunsaker. "The skills that kept them alive over there sometimes get in the way of what we consider normal life here at home. And this program is here to help them."
If you are a combat veteran in need, or you know of a combat veteran who can benefit from the program, contact Capt. Fields at email@example.com or (502) 607-1046.
Troops requesting to make confidential appointments will need to contact Dr. Russ at 502-813-6631. The point of contact for Kentucky National Guard veteran referrals and appointments is Ms Billie Jacobs, firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-607-2067.