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Sen. Bernie Sanders Seeks PTSD Funding For National Guard Iraq War Vets

Burlington, Vermont -- July 16, 2007

A push is underway to help Vermont Guard soldiers who returned from the Iraq War suffering from invisible mental wounds.

Those invisible wounds are called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- a condition that can tear apart the lives of battle-hardened veterans and their families.

Vermont's National Guard commander can't tell you how many of the guard's Iraq war veterans have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He says he doesn't need to know. But he does know that shell-shocked Iraq vets deserve to get help before the invisible mental wounds destroy their lives.

"Vermonters are a proud people. Sometimes Vermonters don't ask for help if they need it," said Vermont National Guard Commander Mike Dubie at a press conference at Sen. Bernie Sanders' Burlington office.

Dubie is concerned that the Vermont Guard troops who served in Iraq will not ask for help for the invisible mental wounds of combat. Those mental wounds are called Post Stress Traumatic Disorder. He doesn't know how many of the more than 1,200 guard members who served in Iraq came home with PTSD.

It may only be a handful for now, but PTSD is a condition that sometimes takes years to reveal itself in the form of depression, stress, alcoholism, drug abuse , and inexplicable rage. It is a condition that sometimes destroys the lives of veterans and their families.

"It seems to me that we have the absolute moral responsibility to make sure that when soldiers come home from a very difficult tour of duty that they and their families get all of the care that they need," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

For Sanders, assuming moral responsibility meant acquiring one-million dollars last year to fund the nation's first and only Outreach Program designed to identify and treat Vt National Guard vets who returned from Iraq with PTSD.

Now Sanders and other members of Congress are pushing for a 30-million dollar appropriation to establish similar Outreach Programs across the nation based on the Vermont model.

"And we want to reach out. We want to make sure that those people (who) are hurting, and not everybody is, those people (who) are hurting feel comfortable about walking into the VA, talking to Jim (McIntyre, VA Outreach Director) and his staff, talk about it, and we will do everything that we can through these resources to try to help," said Sanders.

"It gets people out knocking on doors. It gets them in their own environment. It talks to family members. It asks a series of questions, but the biggest questions is: How you doing?" said Gen. Dubie.

For now the Vermont Outreach program consists of a directors and six counselors who contact all Vermont Guard Iraq war returnees.

There is still enough funding to keep the Vermont program running for a few months. But it is unclear whether Sanders and his allies will get the green light for the 30-million dollars to fund outreach programs in other states.

Dr. Andy Pomerantz, head of psychiatric services at the VA hospital in White River Junction, says they are treating 600 recent veterans for PTSD, not just those from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

The Vermont National Guard Outreach Program can be reached at 1-802-399-6401.