Transitions for Veterans: Return to Home and Community

By John Ceravino

Veterans return from wars with wounds: physical and emotion. And some feel they are not getting the assistance and aid they were promised. The government and Veterans Affairs are aiming to change that.

The Mercy College Bronx Campus held a conference to shed light on the growing problem of traumatic brain injury and other trauma related disorders that are affecting veterans as they return home from war. On April 9, representatives from the Department of Veteran Affairs, as well as returning veterans and doctors who specialize in TBI, spoke on a wide variety of concerns for returning veterans.

The events keynote speaker, Deborah Amdur, is the Chief Consultant at the VA central office. She shared a story of a recent encounter with a veteran who is trying to give back to the VA and his fellow veterans. Mike Walsh, 38, has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. In total, he has been deployed five separate times. On his last deployment, his Humvee hit an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or roadside bomb, as it is commonly called. He was injured with TBI and he spent months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as well as years at various VA hospitals. He expressed to her his desire to give back after all the VA has given to him.

This, she says, “is why our work is so incredibly important, it really put things into perspective.”

Amdur recognized the stigma amongst veterans towards the VA and seeking medical care. Stating that the old practice was to tell an injured soldier to look up their local VA when they returned home. This has certainly disenchanted veterans of past wars and no one represents those feelings more than Leroy Archibald, a Korean War Veteran who served in the United States Marines Corps that attended the conference.

“After the war, something makes you just not want to be bothered with anything.” He says he comes to events like these to be “a voice for my veteran brothers, especially the grunts like me.”

He told Amdur that the veterans will remain in the VA’s face to get things done for them, and she replied that was exactly what they can count on.

This example of a personal firsthand approach is exactly what the VA is trying to do. It recognizes the problems in treating the veterans and are trying new approaches to conflicts that are both old and new. They have recently joined forces with the Department of Defense to try and develop a lifetime connection and commitment to the veterans. They have integrated the medical records within the VA and the DOD. Now if a soldier visits two separate hospitals for treatment, his/her records will already be there. This pairing also allows the VA to treat active duty soldiers for the first time. They are also coming across the new situation of treating veterans that are women.

They have recently expanded their women’s services and are moving towards separate women’s clinics. Women now represent 12 percent of the returning veterans, which is over 200,000. This presents new problems for the VA and they are actively trying to find he best way to tackle this. The biggest advancement, according to Amdur, was finally stocking pajamas that didn’t have a whole in the front. Also new to the hospitals are the people who are guiding the new veterans

OEF/OIF, which refers to “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” They are a team of veterans that help to produce a smooth transition from the war to treatment. “This is really something that is absolutely vital, being able to talk to their peers greatly increases the rate of care,” said Amdur. They help oversee the initial entrance upon the VA system as well as screen for TBI, depression, alcohol abuse and other concerns for returning veterans.

The Mercy College Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions (RIMI) Program sponsored the event.

Mercy College President, Kimberly Kline expressed her pride in being awarded a 2010 Top Military Friendly School. “We are so proud to be an official Yellow Ribbon school.”

A Yellow Ribbon recognizes schools that support the Post 9/11 GI Bill for veterans. GI Jobs Magazine, recently named Mercy College as the top 15 percent of all military friendly schools.

Congressman Joseph Crowley was also on hand to express concern over TBI and to speak on the practical application of new technology. He stressed the need for more

research and dedication to the cause.

“Only through research and scientific study can we end the nightmare of these injuries”.

He also pointed out the many advancements in military technology that have also translated into a practical use. He also states that he marvels at the lower number of soldiers dying in combat on the frontline.

He expressed that they are now able to save lives “that are, in the injured person’s opinion, lives not necessarily worth saving in light of the severity of their injuries. We are aiming to change that.”

Those injuries are more understood than they ever before. Dr. Louis French, Transitional Chief of TBI Services, is very excited for the future of TBI research and technology. He points out that they too, have had to change their methods to keep up with the changing times. Saying that old methods were becoming boring to the new wave of veterans.

“This generation is in need of constant stimulation,” French said. “We have developed new techniques such as virtual reality and other simulations to help us along the way.”