Sanders secures funding for Vermont Guard soldier outreach

By:  Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press

COLCHESTER — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Tuesday that he has landed another $2.4 million to fund an outreach program that provides help to Vermont National Guard and other soldiers and their families dealing with problems following war-zone deployments.

“It is no secret that many of our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are, because of the nature of those wars, forced to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other ‘signature injuries’ of those wars,” Sanders said.

The program, now in its fourth year, ensures that a trained outreach worker personally visits all returning soldiers at their homes to see if they are doing OK or help them obtain medical or mental-health care if they need it.

dubie“We’re all in this together, and we’ve got to stand not only with the soldiers in combat but with their kids and their wives and their husbands,” Sanders said. “This is tough stuff.”

Guard units in other states are studying the program, Sanders said. A front-page article in the May 24 edition of Stars & Stripes military newspaper featured the Vermont program and said military leaders think it could become a model for the nation.

Sanders made the funding announcement during a joint appearance with Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, the Guard’s adjutant general, Tuesday morning at Guard headquarters at Camp Johnson.

Dubie praised Sanders for his commitment to the program. “His vision at the beginning of this program is deeply appreciated,” Dubie said.

Dubie said regular Army soldiers can expect to get help for problems when they come home from deployments because they return to military bases where such services are close by.

That’s not the case with Guard and Army reservists when they come back. Instead, they often are coming home to small, rural places and are on their own trying to figure out how to fit back in with civilian life.

“We have issues just like society has issues. We have suicide and alcohol abuse and substance abuse and spousal abuse,” Dubie said. “What this program does is try to identify some of those issues that people have. Some of them are the result of deployment and some may not be.”

dubieSanders also used the event to disclose he, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has obtained a $1.6 million grant to help Guard families in Vermont pay for child care support while a soldier in the family is on a deployment.

Dubie, asked during the news conference about the condition of five Vermont Guard soldiers wounded during a May 19 attack by insurgents on the Bagram air base near Kabul in Afghanistan, said he had spoken with some of them by telephone and said they had “good attitudes.”

“I’m happy to report we had a quiet week this week. The last week was not quiet,” he said. “Our people are doing well, but every day we have members of our units actively in combat situations.”