Belleville Workshop Gets Public Involved in Helping Servicemembers After They Return from Deployment; Story by Spc. Dan LoGrasso, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BELLEVILLE, IL (01/17/2012)(readMedia)-- Military counselors, Illinois National Guard members and counseling professionals from across central Illinois met at Lindenwood University in Belleville for the pilot program to help servicemembers following deployment. The Illinois National Guard partnered with the East St. Louis Vet Center and St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center for the program.
The Jan. 13 workshop was designed by the National Guard's Service Member and Family Support Services to educate civilian counselors on the realities of mental health issues like post-traumatic stress and survivor's guilt affecting military members and their families.
The new workshop is part of Lindenwood University's Professional and School Counseling Continuing Education Program. Ken Kubicek, division chair of the Education and Counseling Division at Lindenwood and a Vietnam veteran, said professional counselors in Illinois must have continuous education to keep their licenses, and many have begun looking for military-specific education to meet the needs of returning veterans and their families.
"It was hard to believe that this presentation was a pilot program," said Kubicek. "It was very well-prepared and polished."
More than 1.9 million servicemembers have been deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom and an estimated 30 percent have or will have psychological injuries.
Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart of Belleville, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, said the Department of Veterans Affairs needs assistance and educating civilian counselors and local communities will ensure help is rapidly available to servicemembers and their families.
"Many people ask me, 'What can I do to help?'" said Enyart. "And the fact that 40 professionals came [to the workshop] despite weather shows that this country values their veterans."
Eric Murray, chief of Service Member and Family Support Services for the Illinois National Guard, organized the workshop. He said he feels good about the pilot program and will follow up with the attendees to see how they are applying the workshop's material professionally and improve the program.
"The community reaching out to us to host shows how eager people are to help and support service members." said Murray. "They understand that being home from theater does not mean troops are done needing help."
During her lecture on post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt, Illinois National Guard Director of Psychological Health, Juliann Steinbeigle, described military mental health issues as injuries, not illnesses. Guy Spooner, registered nurse and case manager at the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said working with veterans can be challenging because of the stigma attached to mental health issues, which the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to erase.
"[Mental health professionals] need to look [veterans] in the eye and tell them, 'You're normal. You're having a normal response to an abnormal problem.'" said Spooner.