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The Battle Inside

Justin Savage in,15202,207493,00.html

Every day in the news we are bombarded with stories and pictures of operations that continue in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet despite the heavy media coverage of our troops in combat, a large piece of the picture is often overlooked. Who's watching after troops return, once we're home, while we're struggling or focused on trying to take the next natural steps in our lives?

As it turns out, the battle isn't over when we leave the battlefield. Many Veterans and active duty troops alike, struggle with the return to civilian life. While problems can be mild and manageable--nothing more than a little difficulty getting back into the swing of things--in many cases they can be debilitating.

Recent studies show that over a third of Veterans are diagnosed with a combat stress-related behavioral health issue like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Of those diagnosed, nearly half won't seek any help and half of those that do seek help don't receive adequate care. The consequences of untreated behavioral health problems like PTSD can be grave.

Compared to civilians, veterans living with PTSD are two times more likely to divorce, three times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to commit suicide. Deployment-related mental health issues are challenging to address from a warrior's perspective and from the standpoint of those currently trying to solve this problem. Stigma is always a concern, and common symptoms like avoidance can keep returning troops from asking for help, or in some cases even leaving the house.

Among those who are able to overcome the initial hurdles to seeking care, many are ultimately thwarted by logistical concerns like long drives to the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital or justifying time away from job and family commitments. And for those who can make it to a VA Hospital, they are often met with waiting rooms or waiting lists, keeping some months away from an appointment to see a mental health professional.

Veterans and the current system need new tools to meet the mental health epidemic among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In working for years with Veterans that are in transition, one common theme has seemed to help support even the most reluctant of help-seekers: a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. On the battlefield, as in training, the organization and its individuals prosper and advance with the strength of each other. From a word of encouragement, sharing a lesson, to a simple helping hand reaching out that bears the same uniform--that trusted support has always been key to moving forward from the battle overseas to these new internal battles troops face.

One new solution utilizing peer and technological support, Vets Prevail, was created by a group of Veterans dedicated to helping their fellow warriors. Vets Prevail is a web-based training program that helps Veterans and service members reintegrate into civilian life and build resilience against stress-related disorders. It consists of interactive e-learning sessions that are tailored to the military audience and dynamic, conveying the most relevant content to each user based on his or her input.

The sessions are supported by instant message chats with Veteran Peer Mentors that strike the right balance between anonymity and community. The anonymity and convenience of the online program overcome the problems of stigma and access that have prevented many veterans from taking the first step to care. On Veterans Day 2009, Vets Prevail went live, with the goal of providing its service free to 500 Veterans and Service Members with support from Welcome Back Veterans, an initiative of Major League Baseball and the McCormick Foundation, through a grant to the Veterans Corporation, Inc.

Since then Vets Prevail has received an overwhelming response and has already filled the 500 slots being funded by Welcome Back Veterans. There are many more Vets and Service Members who want to enter the training, and Vets Prevail is committed to raising additional resources to accommodate them without charge. The Vets Prevail website,, also serves as a forum where the military community can connect, ask questions and share stories. For returning Veterans, the simple act of talking to other Veterans and discovering that others share their feelings and experiences can be therapeutic.

Time is of the essence. Every day more troops are coming home from or being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and studies show the longer we wait to provide care to our soldiers in need, the worse the outcomes. We must make all viable solutions available to our troops, now, and a major contributor is Vets Prevail, readily and conveniently available online, 24/7. More information and resources on PTSD.