Guard wants veterans to use services

Guard wants veterans to use services by Susan Smith PIERRE � Since Sept. 11, 2001, about 3,500 of South Dakota's National Guard members have been deployed to active duty � many of those overseas.

Now those troops are returning home and officials with the state department of military and veterans affairs want to make sure they have the tools available to handle readjustment issues.

A Harrold man, James A. Gregg, who served in Iraq, was arrested following the July 4 West Bend shooting death of James Fallis, a resident of the Crow Creek Reservation. Major General Michael A. Gorman, secretary of the department of military and veterans affairs, said no evidence exists that the incident was related to Gregg's military service.

"We don't even know that that incident has any correlation with that service member's service. But we've always been worried from the very beginning that we wanted to have help available to anyone who needed it."

Gorman's department set up a task force of state and federal veteran's agencies, community mental health centers, county and tribal service officers and the South Dakota Department of Human Services.

Soldiers are briefed about services available to them before they come home, at demobilization stations and during their first training weekend. Returning veterans are eligible for education and medical benefits, including mental health services.

Teams also were sent to family support groups around the state. Military and veterans affairs also has available a book detailing veterans' benefits, has posted the same information on its Web site and set up a toll-free number, 1-800-658-3930, that veterans and their families can use to get information. Veterans also can contact their county or tribal veterans' service officers if they have questions.

"So far we would say that this has all been well-received and we see it as a good proactive way to get the word out," Gorman said. "Overall I feel comfortable that we're getting the word out to our guard troops and their families. But sometimes because some family members don't come to the family support meetings we may need a little more."

The state's Web site lists benefits available and signs families can look for that indicate their loved one may be experiencing combat stress � anger, irritability, nervousness and depression are a few.

"It's helpful for all moms and dads and aunts and uncles out there so if something comes up they could kind of advise and help," Gorman said.

So far no trends have been identified as far as what problems reserve and guard personnel might be having, Gorman said. He just wants to make sure resources are used.

"The thing I worry about most is if somebody needs something they're going to go get it because it's there," Gorman said. "We know the help's there. It's just whether or not they'd seek it if they need it."

Vet centers and mental health professionals around the state report returning troops are using their services. Gorman said that would not affect a person's service record. The visits are strictly confidential.

"There's no way it's going to get back to us," he said. "The only thing we try to check on is if indeed people are going to get help."

The department of military and veterans affairs Welcome Home Veterans Web site is located at http://www.state.sd.us/ military/welcome_home.htm.

Gorman emphasized the site and services his department provides are not just for veterans but "if somebody sees something and they have a question that they get a hold of us or get a hold of somebody at the vet's center � that they could get help with that even if they just have a question about somebody else," Gorman said.

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