Program helps civilians understand veterans’ views

 

 

By Corinne Reilly  The Virginian-PilotHampton

It’s a simple story, and to those with a connection to the Army or Marine Corps, it might even be a cliche. But when Eric Endries tells it to outsiders, particularly those in law enforcement, he says it packs just the right punch.

Now a civilian with the state-funded Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, Endries starts by explaining that he used to be in the Army and did three tours in Iraq. The longest was 15 months, and he spent a lot of that time behind the wheel of an armored vehicle. In part because the military drilled it into him in training and in part because he saw firsthand the grave dangers of driving in Iraq, he learned how to decrease the risks:

– Look out for irregularities in dirt roads; they might indicate a buried explosive.

– Never go in reverse; it leaves you vulnerable.

– Avoid bridges and guardrails.

– Be aggressive.

– Don’t stop.

Then Endries explains how difficult it can be to dial those instincts down upon returning to the United States, and how, soon after his own homecoming, his wife made him hand over his keys because he was driving, in Endries’ words, “like a maniac.”

“To people in the military, it’s something we’re warned about when we get back. We’ve all heard the stories about driving after a deployment,” he said in a recent interview. “But when you tell it to a police officer who’s never been in the military, you see it click. You plant that seed that in some cases, when they pull someone over, there might be more going on than what’s obvious.”

That’s the thinking behind a new course offered to criminal justice workers across the state by the Wounded Warrior Program, which is part of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (and which is not to be confused with the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project). Besides effects on driving and other difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life, the two-hour course touches on combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, substance abuse among veterans, suicide and domestic violence. The Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Association of the New River Valley helped design the curriculum and launch the sessions.

Endries directs the Wounded Warrior Program’s Hampton Roads chapter, headquartered in Hampton. So far, the chapter has given the training five times across the region. A sixth session is planned for Monday at the Newport News Police Training Academy.

Besides police officers, participants have included judges, lawyers, probation and parole officers and social workers, said Harry Davis, a 21-year Army veteran and a Wounded Warrior Program employee who leads the local sessions. Two volunteers help Davis by sharing their personal stories. Both are combat veterans who’ve been incarcerated and have struggled with and traumatic brain injury.

Davis and Endries said they may arrange for more sessions if demand warrants. So far, they said, feedback has been positive. In pre- and post-training surveys, participants have shown a better understanding of veterans’ issues.

That’s exactly the aim, Endries said.

“The goal isn’t to get special treatment for veterans,” he said. But their military service and any aftereffects “should at least be a piece of the puzzle in terms of figuring out what comes next.”

The unfortunate reality is that many veterans end up in the criminal justice system, Davis said. If more workers within that system are trained to recognize problems such as combat-related PTSD, more veterans can be referred to the help they need, he said.

The trainings are only a small part of what the Wounded Warrior Program does. It offers a range of services for veterans of all eras, as well as their families, including financial assistance, support groups and help with Veterans Affairs, medical care and mental health treatment.

Davis said he ends each of the trainings with information on the program’s services and how veterans can reach them.

“That’s probably the most important part,” he said. “We let people know we’re here. The veterans just need to call us.”

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