News: Veterans Affairs hospital hosts health assessment
Story by Staff Sgt. Les Newport
INDIANAPOLIS - After returning this winter from a yearlong deployment in Iraq, nearly 2,700 Indiana National Guard Soldiers mustered at the Veterans Affairs hospitals for a post deployment health reassessment this weekend. The health screening is a marked change from the way reserve component veterans begin to access health care after deployments.
The National Guard's primary partner in providing health care, the Veterans Health Administration, literally opened their doors for 76th Brigade at three Indiana facilities for the unit's monthly weekend drill.
Soldiers returning from deployment to Camp Atterbury and other mobilization sites can visit a VA representative during the approximately five days of briefings when units return. But officials felt they could do better and generated a model that brings Soldiers directly to a VA facility.
Paul J. Hutter, Veterans Health Administration for Legislation, Regulation and Intergovernmental Affairs Officer, was on site to meet with hospital and National Guard officials as well as brigade Soldiers.
Hutter said the most important thing for veterans to know was the scope of services available through the VA and highlighted health care, in all its dimensions, the GI Bill and education benefits, and vocational and rehabilitation services.
"We're there for them, and while the military may have a (servicemember) for thirty years," said Hutter, "we have them for the rest of their lives, and we're dedicated to making the rest of their lives fruitful and productive."
Central Indiana units of the 76th reported to Roudebush Veterans Hospital for a process that included a health screening, visits with behavioral health counselors and most importantly, registration into the VA system. VA hospitals in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Evansville, Ind., provided the service for units in their regions.
Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, gauged reactions as his Soldiers wound their way through the stations of the health assessment at Roudebush.
"We have a wonderful program that our nation has given to our Soldiers; the opportunity to sit and talk one on one with a case manager and address issues they may not even be aware they're facing yet," said Umbarger. "As I've talked to them [I've learned] deep down they are really very appreciative for this."
The VA drill is part of the new Yellow Ribbon Transition Program that brings National Guard and Army Reservists back to a training status soon after redeployment.
Congress recently mandated the program after determining a seamless transition was much more likely if a Soldier, as well as family members, returned for regular monthly duty drills.
Roudebush has designated the entire fifth floor of one wing specifically for returning Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans, where a steady stream of a newer and younger generation Soldiers are seeking support. The Veterans Health Administration is also elevating services at satellite facilities for service members in widely dispersed rural communities.
Carol Rogers, a retired high school business teacher and part-time airline stewardess,
serves as a volunteer at Roudebush and was more than happy to make the early muster to meet the brigade Soldiers.
Rogers played traffic cop, redirecting pamphlet-perusing Soldiers who looked in danger of wandering off the beaten path. She said the staff was excited to have the flood of uniformed service members visit in such large numbers.
"I think it's a good thing to do to get the guys set up," said Rogers. "I work with Vietnam vets and some are afraid to ask for help, and some just don't know how."