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Illinois Unveils Mental Health Services for Returning Guardsmen, Veterans

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2007 – All Illinois National Guard troops returning from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan now will be screened for traumatic brain injury and get access to post-traumatic stress disorder help under a new, first-of-its-kind state program.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Tammy Duckworth, director of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, announced the program earlier this week in Chicago.

The program includes mandatory traumatic brain injury screening for all returning National Guard combat veterans, voluntary screening for all other Illinois veterans, and a 24-hour toll-free psychological help line for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Blagojevich called the new services an important response to veterans’ mental health needs.

“After they’ve given so much to protect our freedom, we should do everything we can to help them live productive and stable lives when they return home,” he said.

Duckworth said she’s proud to see Illinois set an example in how to care for returning combat troops. “The time is now to help our heroes who have fought for our freedoms, who have sacrificed their lives for us,” she said. “We must, at the very least, make sure they all have access to the health and psychological care they deserve.”

The Defense Department’s latest Mental Health Task Force Report, released June 15, notes the department is working to improve screenings servicemembers receive for possible mental health problems.

“We’ve got these post-deployment questionnaires that you fill out when you leave theater,” Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters in announcing the report’s findings.

“When I left Iraq, I filled out a questionnaire that said: ‘Were you near an (improvised explosive device) that went off? Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you having trouble controlling your feelings?’ And so forth, and so on.

“A lot of people check ‘no’ because they want to get home,” Casscells said.

Questionnaires have been retooled so that “even if they check ‘yes,’ they’re going to get home and get the care when they get home,” he said, adding that this will help promote more honest responses.

Follow-up care also is getting more emphasis, he said.

“We are getting some retired soldiers, including chaplains and psychologists, who are going to make it their business to contact people at six months and say, ‘I just want you to know that we haven't forgotten your service. I'm a veteran. And don't forget there are all these things available to you. And by the way, I'm here to talk to you. I struggled with this or that. And you can call me confidentially because I'm not in the chain of command,’” Casscells said.

“But we want to make sure that at six months, we've got everybody contacted,” he said. “And so we are working toward that goal.”

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Biographies:
Dr. S. Ward Casscells

Related Sites:
Defense Health Board Mental Health Task Force

Related Articles:
Reducing Stigma Provides Key to Better Mental Health, Officials Say



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