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What are we doing for our vets?

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.

Not quite.

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.

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