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Military Connection: Joint PTSD/TBI Research: By Debbie Gregory

PTSD TBI StudyIt has been estimated that approximately 20% of the 2.3 million troops who have served in combat since 2001 have suffered a brain injury and/or developed PTSD. Medical researchers are closing is on the creation of a test designed to detect post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.

Currently, conditions such as PTSD and TBI are only diagnosed with self-reported symptoms and subjective exams. But scientists from five different institutions are getting closer to formulating a definitive test for these injuries. In a collaborative attempt to develop tests to detect the invisible wounds, NYU’s Langone Medical Center, the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for the Study of PTS and TBI, Stanford University, Emory University School of Medicine, and the Department of Defense are examining PTSD and TBI conditions in more than 4,000 service members and civilians.

Now, in year two of the five year, $42.9 million study to locate biomarkers that can indicate evidence of PTSD and TBI, the preliminary results have determined symptoms and methods that can be utilized to determine the presence of these conditions. Blood and genetic variation tests, brain imaging, eye movements and even vocal changes have been determined to provide evidence of PTSD and TBI.

Using brain imaging, researchers have found that patients with PTSD have above-average activity in the amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for creating and storing memories. They also found below-average activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that controls social behavior and expression as a response to fear-inducing stimulus. These findings could lead to brain scan tests to diagnose PTSD and confirm treatments appropriate for the condition.

Other research has found that people with PTSD have distinct vocal patterns as part of the condition. The further study of the vocal patterns in PTSD patients could pave the way to a definitive examination to determine whether a person has the disorder.

For years, athletic trainers, emergency medical responders and military medics have looked into the eyes of patients believed to have suffered TBIs. Researchers in the study are also looking at out-of-sync eye movements to develop a quick test for concussion.

Researchers at the Cohen Veterans Center tracked the eye movements of more than 400 service members and Veterans as they watched a four-minute video. They found that these patients’ eyes did not track together in individuals who had or were recovering from a TBI. The condition is called an “anisocoric and disconjugate gaze.” Further study could lead to the development of a medical device that could be used in combat theaters to detect a TBI, such as a concussion, immediately after it occurs.

The next phase of the study will involve determining the most promising biomarkers, and how they can be used to personalize treatments for PTSD and TBI.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Joint PTSD/TBI Research: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: New Veteran : By Debbie Gregory

sleep disorderAmericans know that such conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) have plagued the generation of Veterans who fought in the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are other conditions that seem to be unique to this generation of war Veterans, greatly affecting their ability to sleep.

One of these conditions is sleep apnea. As of July, 2014, more than 114,000 Veterans were receiving disability benefits for the condition. The claims of sleep apnea among Veterans are so rampant that several politicians have cried foul. Within the next year or two, the VA will have to begin implementing tougher examinations to determine the credibility of these claims.

But there is another sleep-related condition plaguing Veterans. Doctors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington are calling it trauma-associated Sleep Disorder.Military doctors began seeing these unique “nocturnal disruptive behaviors” as early as 2006. They describe them as nightmares or night terrors that they are able to act out, to the point where they have assaulted their significant others without waking.

Trauma-associated Sleep Disorder is similar to nightmares and night terrors that other Veterans have experienced after combat deployments and traumatic events. They, too, occur during rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep. But unlike these known sleep conditions, Trauma-associated Sleep Disorder is not accompanied by the body paralysis that is common with everyday REM sleep. This causes affected Veterans to thrash, punch, cry, shout and make other harmful gestures to themselves and anyone that might be sharing their bed.

The symptoms don’t exactly match the most common diagnoses for combat-related sleep issues, nightmare disorder or REM behavior disorder. Researches at Lewis-McChord are accumulating data and building a case for Trauma-associated Sleep Disorder to be included as its own diagnosis.

If you have experienced similar night time disorders, you should know that you are not alone. Please seek treatment and know that coming forward may help lead to a diagnosis and effective care for your disorder.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Veteran : By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Oak Ridge Boys Combat PTSD: By Debbie Gregory

oak ridge boysThe American Legion National Headquarters recently announced the organization’s partnership with country superstars The Oak Ridge Boys.

The American Legion is America’s largest Veterans service organization, with nearly two and a half million members. The Legion exists to support the men and women who have served in the U.S. military. Part of the organization’s function is to raise awareness for Veterans in areas such as benefits, legislation, education, and treatment for ailments that are prevalent among the Veteran community, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In an effort to reach more Veterans and inform the public about PTSD, the American Legion is partnering with Grammy Award-winning singing group, The Oak Ridge Boys. The legacy of the group dates back to the 1940’s, with all current members performing together since the 1970’s. The group consists of lead singer Duane Allen, bass singer Richard Sterban, tenor Joe Bonsall and baritone William Lee Golden. Besides winning Grammy Awards, The Oak Ridge Boys have won CMA and Academy of Country Music Awards. They continue to tour the country, performing such country and gospel favorites as “Elvira, “GI Joe and Lillie” and “American Made.”

The Oak Ridge Boys have agreed to participate in a national awareness and fundraising campaign to support the detection and treatment of mental health issues in Veterans, including PTSD.

Joe Bonsall, a member of The Oak Ridge Boys since 1973, wrote the inspirational song that was biographical about his Veteran parents, titled, “G.I. Joe and Lillie.” Bonsall’s parents were both World War II Veterans. His father spent much of his life living with the emotional scars of war.

Growing up, Bonsall experienced firsthand how mental health issues can affect a Veteran family, making The Oak Ridge Boys fitting allies for the American Legion.

“Uniting with the American Legion to raise awareness of those who are suffering, as my father did, is work we are proud to champion.” Bonsall said.

The American Legion estimates that around 20% of Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Iraq will face varying degrees of PTSD. The organization has been working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, several research institutions, as well as individual Veterans who suffer from PTSD, as part of their effort to find solutions and treatments for those who suffer with TBI and PTSD.

The inclusion of The Oak Ridge Boys will help take the American Legion’s fight to an additional front. As part of the battle plan, this alliance will reach more Americans and help more Veterans and Veteran families afflicted with the invisible wounds of war.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Oak Ridge Boys Combat PTSD: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Upgrade Your Discharge Status: By Debbie Gregory

review boardsThe majority of Americans believe that our Veterans deserve to receive the highest level of benefits and care. However, not everyone who has served is entitled to provisions offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies and organizations. Veterans, even those who served in combat, who were issued either an Other Than Honorable, Bad Conduct or Dishonorable Discharge are not eligible for healthcare from the VA, as well as a multitude of other benefits.

Veterans with Other Than Honorable discharges are able to petition for benefits, but they are less likely to get them. Veterans are also able to have their discharge characterization upgraded, or have the reason for discharge changed.

For decades, many Veterans who left the service with anything but an Honorable Discharge were looked down upon, especially by the Veteran community. For many Veterans, the idea of receiving the other types of discharges meant that you had done something wrong to earn the distinction. That opinion was black and white, with no room for grey.

But with many new opinions coming to light, especially from the medical and psychological communities, the lines are blurring, and the black and white areas have given way to allow for some grey. During our nation’s longest war, there are many professionals who now feel that many of the previously issued negative discharges may have been the result of traumatic brain injuries, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

This realization could pave the way for as many as 80,000 Veterans to upgrade their discharge status, if they can link their conduct to genuine and evidenced symptoms of TBI or PTSD.

On September 3, 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum that directed boards for the correction of military records or naval records to “fully and carefully consider every petition based on PTSD brought by each veteran.” The memo offers guidance for review boards to use when handling cases where the petitioner claims that post-traumatic stress caused their misbehavior.

This change will be especially beneficial for Vietnam Veterans, whose PTSD symptoms were confused with misconduct, at a time before PTSD was recognized in the military and Veteran communities.

If you are a Veteran needing to upgrade your discharge status, please make sure that you apply for corrections with the appropriate review board for branch of service that you were in:

Army Veterans – Army Review Board Agency (ARBA)

http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/

Air Force Veterans – Air Force Review Boards Agency: http://www.afpc.af.mil/afveteraninformation/airforceboardforcorrectionofmilitaryrecords/index.asp

Navy and Marine Corps Veterans -The Board for Correction of Naval Records:

http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/career/recordsmanagement/Pages/BCNR.aspx

Coast Guard Veterans -The Board for Correction of Military Records of the Coast Guard:

http://www.uscg.mil/legal/BCMR.asp

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Upgrade Your Discharge Status: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Best Advice for PTSD Patients: By Debbie Gregory

Advice for PTSDAccording to military doctors, the best and most effective way to combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is to stay in treatment.

A survey of 400 Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD revealed that 70% of them stopped seeking care by the eighth session. Many doctors believe that a minimum of 12 treatments are needed before major progress can be made.

Lt. Col Gary Wynn, a doctor and assistant chair at the Department of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, believes that staying in treatment can be more important than the type of treatment being administered. Dr. Wynn found that when patients stayed in treatment, the benefits lasted longer than they did in patients who skipped out after only a few sessions. He encourages the inclusion of friends and family members as a means of sticking with the program.

“[Therapy] works better when you do it together with a partner,” Wynn says.

With so many treatment options available, it can be confusing for both doctors and patients to choose the best ones. Treatment types include medication, psychotherapy,  as well as less conventional methods.

Currently, there are only two medications approved by the Food and Drug administration for the treatment of PTSD, Paroxetine, also known as Paxil, and Sertraline, also known as Zoloft.

Several forms of psychotherapy used to treat PTSD have shown promising results. These therapies include Acceptance and Commitment, Exposure, Web-based Cognitive Behavioral, Trauma-Focused, Image Rehearsal, Dialectical Behavior, Cognitive, Stress Management, Eye and Movement Desensitization.

With so many types of effective psychotherapy treatments available, it can be difficult in deciding on one. But the best treatment is one that makes the patient feel empowered, or otherwise positive about their sessions. A positive result will encourage the continuation of treatment.

Non-conventional methods of treatment are usually not as thoroughly researched as medications or psychotherapy. While many generate positive results, they are not consistent and not proven. Doctors have prescribed such non-conventional methods as aromatherapy, herbal remedies, relaxation exercises, martial arts training, yoga, and even virtual reality. Many of these treatments are used in conjunction with psychotherapy or medication.

The best option for anyone suffering from PTSD is to seek and stay in treatment. After that, finding the right doctor and treatment is paramount to staying with it.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Best Advice for PTSD Patients: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: DOD to Review OTH Discharges: By Debbie Gregory

Discharge upgradesUp to 80,000 veterans with “Other Than Honorable” military discharges due to PTSD have been given the opportunity to petition to have their discharges upgraded.

On September 3, 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum that directed the boards for correction of military records or naval records to “fully and carefully consider every petition based on PTSD brought by each veteran.”

Secretary Hagel instructed the boards to give “liberal consideration” to any language found in medical records describing one or more symptoms that meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD or related conditions.  Liberal consideration is also to be used when veterans’ civilian providers have diagnosed PTSD. And where PTSD is reasonably determined to have existed at the time of discharge, it is to be “a mitigating factor” in the misconduct that generated an Other Than Honorable Discharge.

The generation of veterans who will most benefit from this new directive will be Vietnam Veterans. PTSD wasn’t formally recognized until 1980. Studies have estimated that as many as 30% of Vietnam Veterans suffered from PTSD at some point after the war.

An immeasurable number of Vietnam Veterans came home with PTSD, and were then punished for behaviors that are recognized today as symptoms of post-traumatic stress. With their Other Than Honorable Discharges, these veterans were not eligible for VA benefits and care. Many of these veterans also faced an uphill employment battle because of their type of discharge.

Forty years have gone by, and for many, the damage has been done. But a number of veterans, estimated as high as 80,000, could have their discharge statuses upgraded, which would possibly qualify them to receive benefits, including healthcare.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: DOD to Review OTH Discharges: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Army Uses Virtual Therapist: By Debbie Gregory

Virtual TherapistFor all of the glass-half-full people out there, there is a positive side to all of the unfortunate physical and mental wounds endured by our men and women in uniform over the last twelve years at war. Out of necessity, advances in medical and behavioral healthcare have progressed by leaps and bounds since 2001.

One of the latest advancements is a virtual therapist. This resource could make it much easier for service members to talk about subjects such as PTSD. Most people, service members included, don’t feel comfortable talking to other people about their major issues, and often don’t tell them the entire story.

The Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California (USC) conducted a study recently, and found that according to the study participants, virtual interviews were reported to be less intimidating. Participants reported that when it came to talking about their problems, they were more willing to open up to a virtual therapist than a human one.

In Afghanistan, the Army has implemented a virtual therapist named Ellie to help their soldiers. Ellie is the smooth-voiced, calm-toned, active listening, and non-judgmental face of a computer program that runs off of a Microsoft Kinect motion sensor. Using Kinect to gauge a patient’s mannerisms and expressions, Ellie responds and listens in-turn, and even urges patients to keep talking with a well-timed “uh-huh,” and a nod of her head. She also changes her facial expression and leans forward to display these active listening mannerisms to her patients.

To see Ellie in action, please view a Youtube video that has been posted by USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

Ellie is not intended to permanently replace human therapists. The virtual therapist is, instead, designed to be used as a screening tool for service members who could potentially face mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress and depression, after the get home from war.

Ellie’s program, called SimSensei, could be used as a screening tool for the military and hospitals. Currently, it’s being tested by members of the National Guard in Afghanistan. But eventually, it could be used by civilians suffering from everything from depression to cancer.  

Researchers claim that the advantages of utilizing virtual therapists is that a computer doesn’t get tired,  has no personal history or biases to interpret people through, and can more efficiently gather and analyze massive amounts of patient data for trained professionals, who can then take over the treatment.

The U.S. Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sold on the idea of utilizing virtual therapists, and have funded the research. Plans are in the works to implement virtual therapist booths in VA hospitals. The actual hardware needed  to run SimSensei, is not expensive. SimSenei runs off of the Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect game console that sells for as little as $99 (monitor not included).

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Army Uses Virtual Therapist:   By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Veteran Medication Alert: By Debbie Gregory

Eliminating Homelessness Among Homeless VeteransIn most cases, anyone with a medical complaint is prescribed medication in an attempt to manage their symptoms. The results of a recent survey revealed that one third of Veterans polled said that they are on at least ten different medications.Hundreds of thousands of Veterans have been prescribed opiates for pain.

There are thousands of Veterans who have turned to self-medicating, using illegal drugs and alcohol, in an attempt to manage their pain and PTSD symptoms. There are also Veterans who overmedicate, using more of their prescribed medications than directed by their doctors.

It has been estimated that service members and Veterans are prescribed narcotic painkillers three times more often than civilians. But despite their pain and PTSD symptoms, an increasing number of Veterans are choosing to stop taking their medications.

While some Veterans admit that using illegal drugs, alcohol and prescription medications do affect their symptoms, there are others who have come to the realization that they are just trading one condition (pain) for another (substance dependency).  Unfortunately, the latter feel that they are better off without their prescribed medications.

Patients should never go against their doctors’ orders, especially when it comes to medications. Taking too many can be just as dangerous as taking too few. It is strongly recommended that Veterans take their prescribed medication, as directed, and only stop taking it after consulting their doctor.

With that being said, if Veterans feel that they don’t like the way that their medications make them feel, they should bring the subject up to their health care providers, and try to have their meds changed **or** even eliminated.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard & Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Veteran Medication Alert: By Debbie Gregory

All The Way Home

I am rarely at a loss for words. I just finished watching “All The Way Home – Bravery on the Homefront”, produced by Edward Nachtrieb and I am speechless. It is an incredible account of disabled veterans and their struggle to not only face their challenges but to beat them.

Three years ago, Montana fishing outfitter Mike Geary was inspired by news reports to organize fly fishing trips for disabled veterans down one of the American West’s most isolated rivers. In this film, we meet a group of veterans that reflects the diversity of challenges facing our returning soldiers. Some, on leave from Walter Reed Hospital, bear the obvious physical wounds of war while others cope with hidden traumas that are invisible, yet dangerous. With a backdrop of the breathtaking landscape of the American West, they share personal stories of war and the resulting challenges for them and their families after their return home. At the same time, a team of volunteers works tirelessly to make the trip an unforgettably positive experience.

The strength of character on display by both the veterans and the volunteers who serve them is a triumph of the human spirit.

The film takes you, along with a handful of veterans, down the Smith River in Montana. Throughout their time on the river – all put together by an incredible network of volunteers – they share their struggles, their experiences, and their emotions. The film allows you to catch a glimpse into the heart of these men and you find yourself, at the end of the movie, just wishing for a follow up to see that they have kicked their demons out the door and are succeeding beyond anyone’s imagination.

Their physical wounds are healed or are healing. But the emotional toll of war takes much longer to heal. And sometimes never does. The volunteers that have put on this trip have given these veterans a chance to just relax and let their cares – their worries, their stresses, their pain – disappear.

We’re sitting around the campfire and one of the guys – he, uh, he flat out said it. He’s like, ‘You know what? Sitting around talking to you vets…this is the best thing in the world. You know. This is the best therapy in the world. Is just sittin around talking with guys – you don’t even know them. We’ve know each other for maybe 2 or 3 days. And just sittin’ around talking with people that understand. You know. What you’ve been through. Because they’ve been there and they’ve done that as well. It, you know, it’s really good therapy. For all of us.

Plus it’s relaxing and you get to catch a few fish.
– Matt Kemp – Montana National Guard, Iraq Veteran

We wanted to be able to acknowledge their sacrifice, pay tribute to their valor, and respect their service. To acknowledge what they did. This is our way of doing it.
– Mike Geary – Lewis and Clark Expeditions

It’s amazing in how something this easy can relieve so much pressure in a person. Here you’re just sitting on the water, just floatin’ and you don’t have nothin’ to think about except for the next fish you’re going to catch – and how big. And to me that’s the best thing you can ever think of. That’s therapy right there.
– Brian Knowles – Montana National Guard, Iraq Veteran

The movie is a study of contrasts. Contrast the darkness that these men faced and that many of them are still facing with the beauty of the Smith River. Contrast the overwhelming brutalness of their experiences with the laid-back, easygoing nature of a fly-fishing trip. Contrast the stark world of Walter Reed and rehab with the pristine beauty of Montana. Most documentaries about PTSD and war wounds are cold, detached, and distant.

This one is not. “All The Way Home” is an incredible look into the heart of these men who have been through more than most of us can comprehend and you find yourself hoping and praying that they all make it out to the other side.

A big part of me wonders if a large-scale implementation of fishing trips such as the one featured in “All the Way Home” would do more to help those with PTSD than all of the psychoanalyzation and therapy that we have in place now. How incredible would it be to try?

Ed Nachtrieb, the producer, has agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of “All the Way Home” to Soldiers Angels. You can pick up a copy of “All The Way Home” by going HERE. I would strongly encourage you to do so. Right now.

Veteran Treatment Court

It is estimated – and some would say UNDERestimated – that 30 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The studies are out there:

Thousand of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines returning from war suffer from the effects of PTSD and turn to drugs and/or alcohol to help numb the pain and keep the flashbacks at bay. A study conducted in 2005 by the Pentagon shows approximately one quarter (24.5%) of soldiers (in the Army) considered themselves to be regular heavy drinkers – consuming five or more drinks at a time at least once a week. In 1998, that figure was only 17.2 percent.

Thousands of those servicemembers find themselves in court, facing the legal consequences of their behavior. In Buffalo, New York, Judge Robert Russell has implemented the Veteran Treatment Court after counting more than 300 veterans in the local courts the year prior.

“The reality is, we knew we had to do something now … because soon we’re going to have 400,000 coming home,” says Hank Pirowski, who heads Judge Russell’s staff. He says a lot of the veterans they’ve seen got into trouble because they were dealing with the aftermath of combat. (Court Aims to Help Vets With Legal Troubles, NPR)

The Veterans Treatment Court does not let offenders off lightly. According to Russell the court handles primarily non-violent offenses. Veterans required to get mental health or addiction counseling, find jobs, stay clean and sober and get their lives back on track. They are required to report back on a monthly basis to update the court on their progress. The judge says that the typical veteran will remain in the treatment court for a year or more before their progress is deemed sufficient and their charges reduced or cases dismissed.

Each defendant in the Veteran Treatment Court is assigned a mentor who is also a veteran. Currently, there is a waiting list for those positions. The mentors are primarily made up of Vietnam vets who are more than willing to do for current veterans what was never done for them. Each defendant is also assigned a public defender that expects them to be actively involved in their own case.

In addition, the courtroom also has present a substance abuse treatment specialist from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA specialist has a laptop that allows instant access to defendants’ records, appointment tracking, and access to government benefits and services that the defendant may not know exist.

The program has been so successful that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced the Services, Education, and Rehabilitation for Veterans (SERV) Act to create veteran drug treatment courts to support veterans combat the cycle of alcohol or drug addiction. The SERV Act is modeled on the Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo.

“For those who have given so much for our country, we should address the serious issues of drug and alcohol addiction in an appropriate forum that recognizes that some veterans fall victim to substance abuse as a way to handle post-traumatic stress. It’s well past time we offered our veterans services worthy of their sacrifice.”

“War exacts a tremendous psychological toll on the warrior and unfortunately some veterans turn to drugs and alcohol for solace,” said Patrick Campbell, Chief Legislative Counsel for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “As a grateful nation, we must honor the service of our fighting men and women by providing them alternatives when they run afoul of the law. The SERV act will offer struggling veterans a lifeline through the darkness. Veterans will still be held accountable for their actions, but will be given an opportunity to heal and find their way home.”

It is the least we can do.