Lawmakers, hospitals and universities are taking different approaches to assist veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans may have more access to resources through new legislation and initiatives from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. These resources address many of the challenges veterans face upon reintegration to civilian life, including chemical dependency, post-traumatic stress disorder and unemployment.
According to a University of Minnesota and Minneapolis VA Medical Center survey, nearly 80 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veterans surveyed displayed signs of probable PTSD or drug or alcohol problems.
Rep. Phillip Sterner, DFL-Rosemount, introduced legislation this session aimed at assisting veterans and their families with these issues.
In addition to financial support, Sterner has proposed making alcohol and chemical dependency counseling more available to returning veterans and unpaid leaves of absence from employment for immediate family members of recently deployed soldiers.
“It’s important for me to advocate for them and make sure they are getting the programs that they need,” said Sterner, whose son is a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
With the recent return of National Guard 34th Red Bull Infantry division, access to these resources will be crucial, Sterner said, as currently one-third of the Red Bulls are unemployed.
Sterner’s legislation works with the Veterans Linkage Program and linkvet.org, a one-stop connection to veterans’ services.
The Web site is designed to support veterans and link them to anything they might need, VA Medical Center OEF-OIF Program Director Mark Frenzel said.
Frenzel said the Web site is good, but the program is looking to increase its presence online.
Frenzel said the program wants to develop a YouTube channel and Facebook page to reach more OEF-OIF veterans.
Services are available to student veterans at the University through the Veterans Resource Office and the Veterans Transition Center.
Justin Reichers, an engineering major and co-president of the Veterans Transition Center, said returning soldiers are bombarded with information and pamphlets, but he questions whether that is effective.
Reichers suggested more casual reminders and personal testimonials to reach veterans struggling with reintegration. He also said the only time he has seen an advertisement for Linkvet was on the bus.
“If they’re not seeing it on TV or hearing it on the radio, it’s a failed mission,” he said, adding that the resources are great and the next step is to increase advertising.
Kristin Schwarze, a history major who served 10 years with the Army and Army National Guard, said leaving the Army is like being fired and losing your family at the same time.
“You can have all the resources at One Stop and the VA Center, but it’s hard if you don’t come here and meet people who are doing it too,” she said.
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