BURLINGTON — A Vermont program aimed at helping returning GIs get help to address brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder got a boost Monday, with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders announcing new federal funding that will enhance it and begin sowing the seeds for similar programs in other states.
A Department of Defense appropriations bill signed by President Bush contains $3 million for expanding the Vermont National Guard Outreach program and another $3 million for other states to reach out to troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The program, which began about a year ago, also reaches out to soldiers back from Army Reserve units or active duty soldiers who have returned to civilian life.
The goal is simple, but the problem isn't.
"This is a hugely important issue, because we are seeing a staggering number of people coming home with PTSD and traumatic brain injury," said Sanders, I-Vt. "It is terribly important that these people get the help they need and in order to do that, we need to do this effectively."
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from PTSD jumped by 70 percent over the last year.
The Pentagon says 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of U.S. Marines report having psychological concerns after deployment.
The funding, which Sanders helped obtain with the support of U.S. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will go toward boosting the number of outreach workers and establishing a toll-free 1-800 number for veterans to call, said Jim MacIntyre, coordinator of the Vermont National Guard Outreach team.
"It's a positive step," he said. "The need is growing every day," he said.
Most important, according to Sanders, is helping affected veterans know that there's help out there available to them.
"You can have the best services available to help, but if people don't access them, it's no good. We need to make sure people have access to these services," Sanders said.