The Rhode Island Blueprint Addressing the Needs of Returning Soldiers and their Families
The enormously stressful conditions our troops face while protecting our freedom can be difficult to overcome even after they have returned from their tours of duty. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (2004) indicates that a significant number of troops - 16 percent of Marines and 17 percent of soldiers, respectively, returning from the Middle East show symptoms of posttraumatic disorder including major depression, generalized anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, panic attacks, violent outbursts, acute anxiety and emotional numbness. It is believed the numbers will rise dramatically as the length of service has been extended. Many of these service men and women are National Guard and Reservists who never expected, nor were trained for, long periods of combat. Posttraumatic disorders affect not only the troops themselves, but their loved ones as well, and can lead to alcoholism and substance abuse disorders.
Since September 11, 2001, more than 3,800 members of the Rhode Island National Guard have been deployed with more deployments expected. As research has demonstrated our veterans and out returning military will present new challenges for our health care system. In an effort to develop a knowledgeable and easily accessible system of care to meet these needs, and at the request of General Centracchio, The Adjutant General, Rhode Island National Guard, a key informant survey and an assessment was undertaken in an effort to identify available resources, document barriers to accessing care, and strategizing how to meet emerging needs for returning soldiers and their families.
The assessment revealed that although services are available in Rhode Island, they are functioning in isolation. Community health care providers are unaware of the services and for most, how to access them. It was also clear that services for family members, especially children and adolescents were minimal, at best.
In an initial step toward enhancing service delivery and facilitating networking, a day long conference entitled, How Will We Welcome Them Home? War. Battle. Combat. The Unseen Cost to American Armed Forces and their Families, was held on May 11, 2005. Designed to enhance the knowledge of community based providers about posttraumatic disorders, representation from the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Organizations, representatives from various State Departments, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, members of the community, faculty of Brown University, clinicians from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Bradley Hospital, as well as many others came together to begin building the bridges necessary to continue moving forward.
The next step in this initiative was to bring together key stakeholders to create a state-wide blueprint to serve as a guide in the development of an easily accessible and knowledgeable system of care for veterans, returning soldiers and their families. This Design Team Gathering, facilitated by Partners Consortium, Inc., led to Mapping of the Needs, Assets, Resources and Strategies for Veterans and their Families. The development of The Rhode Island Blueprint is based upon this Map. It is the hope of the Design Team that this document will be periodically updated to reflect identified new and emerging needs.
In March, 2006, the Rhode Island National Guard and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center took a special interest in implementing the recommendations outlined in The Rhode Island Blueprint and made it a priority to develop a true “military-civilian” partnership. This effort has resulted in the creation of the Veterans Task Force of Rhode Island.
We welcome your participation in this initiative. Our active duty personnel, veterans, and their families who have given much sacrifice for our well being, now require our committed service to them.