VA provides mental and medical health services to veterans
PRESCOTT Vet Centers throughout the United States are part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Vietnam vets lobbied Congress for additional readjustment (mental health) services for combat veterans.
Are things different for the soldiers returning from Iraq? Moreover, where do non-combat veterans receive mental health services?
Licensed clinical social worker Melissa Davis is the case manager for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She said VA Medical Centers provide the same services to all veterans as those provided to combat veterans at the Vet Center.
Davis said Iraqi veterans are facing "very different problems."
U.S. soldiers are serving multiple tours in Iraq. In addition, the National Guard and reserves are heavily involved.
"During Vietnam, solders served one tour of duty and then generally they were out of the service. They were also draftees," said Dr. David Fero, service line manager for mental health at the VA hospital in Prescott,
Deployment, Fero said, puts an extreme strain on not just the soldier, but also their family. Fathers and husbands are gone for an undefined amount of time.
Another significant difference, Davis said, is that more soldiers are surviving injuries they would have died from during past wars.
The higher survival rate, she said, is the result of improved body armor and faster medical treatment in the field. She said wounded soldiers are evacuated to major hospitals, such as the one in Germany, within 12 hours.
The Iraqi War is also producing more women combat veterans.
Fero said men and women exhibit different symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Men, he said more often respond with vigilance, aggression and anger. Women show signs of anxiety and depression.
"Women are not as aggressive. You take the 'macho' part out. Also, men are more prone to substance abuse," he said.
Davis said the VA provides women health services and special trauma counseling.
"The fact is women in combat are serving in non-traditional roles. The incidents of PTSD are high. Women are not just dealing with war and dead bodies; they are also dealing with sexual trauma and sexual abuse. Women also suffer orthopedic (back) problems because of the weight of the gear," Davis said.
Fero said, "Even though there are more women in combat, we do not have enough to have group support. Fortunately, we have a good female therapist.
"Today's soldiers are a bit more stoic. Their orientation seems to be that this is why they trained. They are professional soldiers."
Fero and Davis emphasized that all veterans returning from Iraq have access to health care.
Fero said returning vets are eligible for two years of free health care.
Davis said all returning vets should enroll in the health care program even if they do not need it at this time. She said enrollment ensures the vet can get care in the future.
"We would like to see every vet enroll," Davis said.
"People call the vets heroes, as they should. However, we should realize that the spouse and family are also going through stress. The family is making sacrifices. There is the added problem that they don't know when their soldier is coming home," Fero said.
Anyone wanting more information about the OIF/OEF programs should contact Davis at 445-4860, ext. 6308, or the eligibility office at their local VA.
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