Planning for the Return of Our Soliders
September 21, 2010
In addition to opening health care clinics for returning veterans and funding an innovative outreach program, Sen. Bernie Sanders is helping advance legislation that would ease soldiers' return to Vermont. He co-sponsored the National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act last week.
What happens to soldiers after their service has concluded is of paramount concern, particularly as roughly 1,500 Vermonters in the Vermont National Guard are winding down their deployment to Afghanistan.
"In today's struggling economy, almost half of the Guard and Reservists returning home are finding that the jobs and careers they put on hold to serve their country no longer exist. Often, they do not have a cushion of time or money to adjust to civilian life," Sanders said.
The National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act, S. 3748 (Click here to read bill text) provides for the retention of returning active duty soldiers for a period of 45 days.
The bill would provide a 45-day demobilization period so service members would receive basic pay and have access to physical and mental evaluations. Returning soldiers would also be able to receive educational, financial, marital, and family counseling. The counseling would include guidance on benefits they have earned through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Defense. Service members who do not feel they need readjustment time would be able to opt out of the program.
After deployment, soldiers are left to face the stark reality that they must transition to civilian life with minimal support, compared to their friends who remain in active military service. Members of the military's reserve, such as the Vermont National Guard, are expected to step right back into their civilian jobs and pick up right where they left off with minimal time to adjust.
Historically, men and women who have served in harm's way experience higher rate of divorce and, in some cases, suicide, making the availability of counseling crucial. Many soldiers also battle the debilitating effects associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.
"This important legislation will help ease the transition of our soldiers back to Vermont," Sanders said.
Earlier this summer, Sanders secured $2.4 million to continue funding an innovative outreach program to help the Vermont National Guard and their families deal with problems following war-zone deployments. He is also aggressively pursuing $20 million to expand this effective outreach program for Guard and Reserve units nationally. (Read more in the Burlington Free Press and in Stars and Stripes.)
"When these soldiers were deployed, Vermonters made a promise to them that we would do our best to protect them and their families when they were in combat and when they returned," Sanders said. "All of us should be very proud that Vermont has come up with programs that have become, in some ways, a model for America."
Sanders has been successful at adding health clinics for Vermont's veterans. He attended the opening for a veteran's health clinic in Newport, Vt,. in early September. The facility is the sixth operated by the White River Junction VA Medical Center. The other clinics serving Vermonters are in Bennington, Brattleboro, Colchester, Rutland, and Littleton, N.H. The Brattleboro clinic opened in June of this year.
The clinics provide access for veterans to primary care physicians, laboratory tests, medications, mental health services, and preventative services such as flu shots.