Nov 05, 2010 Ami Olson Uncategorized
A young combat veteran returns home from a tour in the desert, and what is his primary concern?
The family, job and responsibilities he left behind here in the states take top priority, said Lauren Love, program manager of the OEF-OIF program at the Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“When they get home their focus is, ‘I want to reintegrate with my family,'” Love said.
But a resource aimed entirely at easing the readjustment period for returning combat vets is one that only about 30 percent of them take advantage of: the OEF-OIF program.
Not your grandfather’s VA
There’s a litany of challenges returning combat vets face when they come home, including health care, employment, marital and relationship problems, education and even housing issues.
While the VA provides health care, the OEF-OIF program acts as a hub through which vets can get in touch with resources in the community for any other issues they’re faced with, Love said.
“What we’re going to do is screen them for their needs, then refer them to the appropriate people,” she said. “My team helps to connect them with those resources in the community or within the VA.”
All it requires, she said, is for a returning combat veteran to make an initial appointment with the VA to have that evaluation completed.
Michael Van Zummeren, business office manager at the Syracuse VA, said one of the stereotypes today’s VA is charged with challenging is the misconception that after that first appointment, a veteran drops off the VA’s radar.
“That’s something we hear often: ‘OK, I come in and get my appointment and I’m done,'” Van Zummeren said.
Love emphasized the case management style of the OEF-OIF program, which follows up with patients throughout their period of readjustment – however long that may be.
For some, she said, it’s a couple of weeks or months, for others it could be years. But the VA is there for them, as long as they make the first step.
A network of support
In spite of the benefits available to returning combat veterans, like five years of free health care for combat-related injuries and illnesses, getting them in the door is still a challenge.
“As we know, many coming out of the military are reluctant to seek both medical care or behavioral health care for any of their related symptoms,” Love said.
Though health care is a hot topic these days, it will move down the priority list for many veterans who have a list of other pressing issues to deal with, like finding a job.
“So when we go to guard and reserve units, often times we’re doing work with the families to educate them on what this may be and how to access resources,” Love said.
Symptoms of an injury or illness, like post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, can go undetected during the first few hectic weeks or months back home. So it’s important for family members to be aware of the resources available to returning vets in case those symptoms to present themselves.
“It may be a spouse or significant other, or a parent, who calls and says, ‘I need to get some help for my son who’s just come back… what do you have?'” Love said.
As always, the first step is for the veteran to visit the VA and become enrolled in the program, if eligible, and get evaluated.
Spread the word
Bill Hoffman, outreach coordinator at Syracuse VA Medical Center, understands why returning combat veterans don’t make the VA their first stop once they’re stateside: it wasn’t until he became employed at VA that he realized what benefits were available to him.
“I separated in 1990 and did not even consider or think of VA for years and years and years,” Hoffman said.”I went four years without health care, and all I had to do was go and sign up and enroll.”
Hoffman wasn’t faced with an injury or illness during those four years – but many others are not so lucky.
“Almost every week we’re dealing with a veteran here who did not enroll, something happened and they landed in a private hospital,” Hoffman said. “Then we get them enrolled, but we can’t go back in time and undo what’s already been done.”
“It’s never too late,” Love said.
The VA offers the benefits that veterans have already earned by serving – all a returning combat vet has to do now is enroll.
The Syracuse area offers many resources to returning veterans, including a free monthly legal clinic, housing options for homeless veterans, transportation services and vocational rehabilitation services.
For more information, call the Syracuse Department of Veterans Affairs at 425-4400 or visit syracuse.va.gov.