Governor Lincoln Chafee was joined today by Lt. Governor Roberts, Rhode Island National Guard Major General Kevin McBride, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and other state, local and military officials for a Veterans' Forum on Behavioral Healthcare at the at the Rhode Island National Guard Schofield Armory in Cranston.
The forum was held to bring attention to the behavioral health issues faced by active military personnel and veterans after military service. Rhode Island has one of the highest troop deployment rates in the country, and many Rhode Island servicemen and women have experienced long and multiple deployments, which take a toll on them and their families. The Governor recently returned from reviewing operations and visiting with troops in Afghanistan.
"This is an important issue -- one that is made even more significant given the fact that Rhode Island has one of the highest deployment rates in the nation," said Governor Chafee. "I recently traveled to Kuwait and Afghanistan to visit with Rhode Island troops. When I think of those brave men and women, I want to be sure that when they come back to Rhode Island their needs are being addressed in the best way possible. These individuals sacrifice so much for us, and we owe it to them to recognize and treat the afflictions -- both physical and mental -- that so often accompany them when they come home."
As servicemen and women return from active duty, they and their families could face behavioral health issues. Long and multiple deployments -- some can be deployed as much as 18 months or more - cause some military personnel to return with what are sometimes called "invisible injuries" that need to be addressed.
"We owe it to our veterans and their families to ensure that their health care needs are met, body and mind," said Lt. Governor Roberts. "We must return the favor of their sacrifice with a commitment to meeting all of their health care needs."
"A significant proportion of returning service men and women suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance abuse," said Pamela Hyde, Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "Approximately 18.5 percent of service members returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD or depression, and 19.5 percent report experiencing a traumatic brain injury during deployment."
"The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 can easily be called a veterans bill of rights," said Congressman Patrick Kennedy. "The signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are traumatic brain injury and PTSD. In order for us to be there for our veterans, we need to treat these wounds, not as invisible wounds of war, as they are often referred to, but as the physical wounds of war that we would acknowledge with a purple heart."
Much of the discussion focused on Rhode Island's support services for veterans, including counseling, housing and employment. These and other services are critical to some returning military personnel as they re-integrate into the community and find that jobs they thought they were returning to are no longer there or living arrangements are no longer stable. Some may also find that family and other social relationships may be strained.
"These men and women risk their lives, and while deployed, deal with so many issues overseas and at home," said Craig Stenning, Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). "We at BHDDH, want to establish a system of support with providers who are well-trained to treat National Guard members and other military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan."
About the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.
About the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH):
BHDDH is committed to assuring access to quality services and supports for Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities, mental health and substance abuse issues and chronic, long-term medical and psychiatric conditions. In addition to planning for the development of new services and prevention activities, the mission of the department includes addressing the stigma attached to these disabilities.