February 17, 2008 – All of a sudden — but still too late for some people — the spotlight of media, government and mental health agencies is shining brightly on the issue of providing emotional support for veterans returning from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two weeks ago, Illinois became the first state to set up a 24-hour hot line for veterans. Operated by Magellan Health Services through a state contract, the hot line is designed to help returning vets with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder find services that can help them.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released statistics last week showing that more than half the suicides of returning warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq have been among members of the National Guard and Reserves. The VA reported that between the start of the Afghanistan war in October 2001 and the end of 2005, 144 veterans took their own lives.
One of them was 23-year-old Guardsman Spc. Timothy Bowman of Forreston, who committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day 2005 at his family’s home, eight months after he returned to the United States. His parents testified before Congress late last year about how troubled their son was when he returned from war. The father, Mike Bowman, said his son belongs in the “KBA” category — “killed because of action.”
Locally, Dick Kunnert, president of the Mental Health Association of the Rock River Valley and former director of Singer Mental Health Center, said the need for support services for veterans of the war is clear.
“Mental illness and problems with emotions are showing up at a much higher rate with this group of people than in previous wars,” Kunnert said.
He said he recently visited with a woman whose son came back from the war not long ago. She picked him up at the airport, and he wanted to drive home.
“She was scared to death,” Kunnert said. “Every little thing along the road bothered him. Noises bothered him. When he got home, anything that was going on, he went into defensive mode. It is bizarre what they are going through.”
Kunnert and other local mental health professionals and people familiar with veterans issues have started a support group that will hold its first meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 26 in the community meeting room at ABC Crash Collision Auto Repair, 4141 Morsay Drive, Rockford. The group, which will meet at the same time every Tuesday, is open to any veteran who’s served in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Bruce Jacobsen, a Vietnam veteran who is active in VietNow, has been particularly concerned about the services available to troops returning from the war.
“There’s absolutely been a shift in understanding PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) that was not there before, that they are actual physical injuries,” Jacobsen said. “We actually understand that there has been an injury that needs to be dealt with.”
As a society, we can’t repeat the mistake of earlier generations by expecting military personnel to come home after traumatic battle experiences and proceed with life as if nothing had happened.
This is the number for the state’s help hot line: 866-554-4927. For information, visit illinoiswarrior.com.
For information about the support group in Rockford, call 815-398-9628 or 815-226-4770.