Eighteen months ago, when my film team and I began making our feature-length documentary STRANGER AT HOME, we had a sense that our worlds would be forever shifted by the veterans, their family members and the mental health experts we’d meet to learn about the impact and devastating ripple effect of the invisible wounds of war – post traumatic stress, TBI and the even deeper moral injuries of the combat experience. Our sense has become a reality and then some. None has rocked our consciousness and creativity as much as Dr. Mark Russell, Former Commander and 24-year Naval psychologist who revealed that there’s a perfectly relevant, evidence-based blueprint for a successful mental health reentry program for veterans. Indeed, the program was mandated in 1944 by FDR, developed by the military and shelved shortly after WW ll ended. There’s been nothing since despite the mental health lessons of war fully documented in that program and captured in John Huston’s documentary LET THERE BE LIGHT, which never did see the light of day after its completion in 1946. In fact, the film was classified, labeled as “secret” and shelved until 1986. The real crime here is that a successful reentry program was in place for Veterans and then dismantled. Or the more hopeful thought: that program is right there to dust off, upgrade and put into action immediately. The million dollar question is: Why aren’t we doing that?
“We’re re-inventing the wheel at every generation, with every war, at a great, tremendous resource, and great expense at both the human level and financial level and we need not do that.” — Mark C. Russell, PhD., Former Commander and psychologist U.S. Navy, Founder of the Institute of War Stress Injuries and Social Justice, Antioch University in Seattle.
7 powerful reasons WHY the reinstatement of a mandatory reentry program will absolutely save lives:
1. Cut through negative stigma – The current nature of military culture is NOT to reach-out for mental health care and treatment. This creates the perfect storm for someone to struggle in isolation, turn to drugs and alcohol, which can then lead to attempted and successful suicide. A long-stay, transition program for all troops, to go through mental health triage, assessment and care, upon leaving the service, can help determine their short and long term needs, educate them on the symptoms of PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury, and provide the support and resource structure needed to recover from the invisible wounds of war.
2. Provide essential fellowship – One of the biggest reasons for a veteran’s downward spiral, beyond not getting the necessary care and treatment for their emotional and psychological injuries is the sudden separation from fellow troops. Many say: “one day you’re in-country with the people you were willing to die for and the next you’re standing in your living room.” A long-stay reentry program keeping veterans together, allows them to decompress as an at-home unit, experience the benefit of veteran group therapy and process what they’ve all been through – that only they understand.
3. Help the families – The families of the emotionally and psychologically injured veteran need as much support, education, awareness and healing, if not more, than the veteran. A long-stay, reentry program would allow families to reintegrate in safe, secure and comfortable environments with their veteran. They can learn what’s ahead in management and understanding of the symptoms of PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury. They’d have the opportunity to meet other veteran families and build a lasting support structure that would exist after the reentry program has concluded.
4. Provide choices of treatments and therapies – Presently, the number one and cookie-cutter treatment for PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury is medication. The anti-anxiety, anti-depression, anti-psychotic meds given to veterans – that is, if they come forward on their own and seek help – are often times the main contributors, coupled with alcohol and drug abuse, to create the climate (side effects) of acute despair, which can lead to suicide. In a long-stay, organized and supervised reentry program they would have access to many successful, evidence-based treatments and therapies – traditional and holistic – to experience and determine what best fits their needs and symptoms. By treating each veteran as an individual, and determining a treatment protocol that’s right for them, a sense of value, worth and self-empowerment, essential to the recovery process, is fostered.
5. Restore a sense of purpose – Many veterans report that one of the biggest losses coming back is no longer having a sense of purpose. These people are so highly trained, so loyal, that returning to civilian life, where their uniforms, training, medals of honor are suddenly meaningless can cause a major identity crisis on top of the emotional and psychological injuries that must be healed. A long-stay reentry program that has civilian career counseling and social training available to them will rebuild those pathways to discover a new sense of purpose.
6. Unify a nation of resources – Many veteran advocacy groups are currently working solo and at the grassroots levels, both regionally and nationally. Under a national reentry program they can be coordinated and organized to more effectively help with services and outreach to those veteran families already impacted by these injuries.
7. Save millions if not billions – By creating legislation and policy that mandates a reentry program for veterans, with an emphasis on mental health care and treatment, we would lessen and eliminate unnecessary fall-out medical, mental health care and incarceration costs. By taking care of these men and women properly, upon their exit from the military, we can bring 22 down to zero, eradicate homelessness and genuinely rehabilitate a population of the finest and most dedicated human beings on the planet.
“We’ve got to treat mental illness as a priority as we do physical illness. We’ve got to take out the shame that PTS is, something they (the military) calls a readiness issue. It’s something that affects everybody that goes to war.” Mark C. Russell, PhD., Former Commander and psychologist U.S. Navy, Founder of the Institute of War Stress Injuries and Social Justice, Antioch University in Seattle.
(Written by award-winning documentary filmmaker Beth Dolan one of the producers for “Stranger At Home” Beth@strangerathome.org. “Stranger At Home” is a feature-length documentary film shedding awareness and real solution on the veteran and military family mental health crisis. Their Indiegogo campaign to raise the next leg of production funds needs your help immediately. They have a match fund pledge of $10K promised if they raise $10K by July 16th. This film is a 501c3 endeavor and all contributions are tax deductible. CLICK HERE to help: http://strangerathome.org)